NC Roads and Bridges Face $65 Billion Funding Shortfall

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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.”

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