Tuesday, March 23, 2010

NC Roads and Bridges Face $65 Billion Funding Shortfall

At a time when more than one-quarter of North Carolina's major roads
are deteriorated, nearly a third of the state's bridges are in need of
improvement and traffic congestion continues to choke major roads,
North Carolina faces a $65 billion transportation funding shortfall
through 2030. Unless the state is able to close the funding gap, it
will be unable to complete numerous projects that would improve road
and bridge conditions and safety, or widen key roadways to support
long-term economic growth in the state. Driving on roads that are
deteriorated, congested or lack some desirable safety features costs
North Carolina motorists a total of $5.7 billion annually – $1,351 per
driver in the Charlotte area. This is according to a new report
released today by TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation
research organization.

According to the TRIP report, "The Future of North Carolina's
Transportation System: Preserving and Maintaining North Carolina's
Economic Lifeline to Ensure Safe, Smooth and Efficient Mobility,"
North Carolina will need an additional $65 billion in transportation
funding through 2030 to plan, design, build and maintain the state's
transportation system. The North Carolina Department of Transportation
(NCDOT) has identified numerous needed transportation projects
throughout the state that currently lack adequate funding to proceed.
In the Charlotte area, these projects include adding additional lanes
on I-85, I-77 and I-485; replacing the US 29 bridge over Mallard Creek
in Mecklenburg; and adding an 11-mile light rail line to extend the
existing LYNX Blue Line.
"Safety is of utmost importance. Additionally, we must address the
quality of our roads and all other congestion-related issues to ensure
we maintain the quality of life the Charlotte region is known for,"
said Ned Curran, president and CEO of The Bissell Companies.
"Transportation infrastructure is directly tied to our ability to
recruit jobs, which is what it will take to recover from the recession."

The TRIP report finds a total of 27 percent of major roads in the
Charlotte area in poor or mediocre condition, the same as the
percentage of poor and mediocre roads throughout the state. In
addition to deteriorated road conditions, 14 percent of North Carolina
bridges are structurally deficient and an additional 15 percent are
functionally obsolete.

"This report emphasizes what the NC Chamber and it's employer members
already know – significant transportation needs in our state require
attention and action from elected leaders to keep, create and attract
jobs now and in the future," said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the
North Carolina Chamber.
Traffic congestion is a growing burden in North Carolina. According to
the TRIP report, 54 percent of the state's major urban roads are
congested during peak travel times and the average Charlotte driver
loses 40 hours each year stuck in traffic.

Between 2004 and 2008, 7,783 people were killed in traffic crashes on
North Carolina's roads. The state has a traffic fatality rate of 1.41
fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, higher than the
national average of 1.25. North Carolina's rural, non-Interstate roads
are particularly deadly, with a traffic fatality rate that is more
than four times higher than on all other roads in the state.

With 79,288 miles of state-maintained roadway, North Carolina has the
second largest state-maintained roadway system in the nation. Seventy-
six percent of roadways in North Carolina are maintained by the state,
the fourth highest share in the nation. Despite the large size ofNorth
Carolina's state-maintained roadway system, per-mile capital spending
on state-maintained roads in North Carolina is the fourth lowest in
the nation.

The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided
approximately $838 million in stimulus funding for highway, bridge and
transit improvements in North Carolina. This funding has created jobs
and served as an important down payment on needed road, highway and
bridge improvements but is not sufficient to allow the state to
proceed with numerous projects needed to modernize its surface
transportation system. The current long-term federal surface
transportation legislation, which expires on December 31, 2010,
remains a critical source of funding for road and bridge repairs and
transit improvements in North Carolina. With the current federal
transportation program set to expire, Congress has an opportunity to
approve a new federal surface transportation program that could
include a significant boost in funding for highway and transit
improvements in North Carolina.

"Unless North Carolina is able to close its $65 billion transportation
funding gap, many additional needed projects will remain stranded on
the drawing board because of insufficient funding," said Will Wilkins,
executive director of TRIP. "It is critical that North Carolina's
transportation system is adequately funded at the state and federal
level. Thousands of jobs and the state's economy are riding on it."