Policy Study

Transportation Priorities for North Carolina

Twenty cost-effective recommendations for the Tar Heel State

North Carolina has the nation’s largest state-owned highway system (80,200 miles), 72 airports, 120+ transit systems, extensive intercity rail freight and passenger service, and several ocean ports. These resources are a key element in the state’s economic vitality and are central to its economic progress. Recent legislative and gubernatorial changes provide an opportunity for charting new directions for transportation policy, planning and investment.

This report summarizes an effort by Reason Foundation and the John Locke Foundation to make recommendations for improving North Carolina’s transportation system. The report reviews numerous prior studies, visions, plans, legislation, and the practices of other states to identify suggestions for transportation improvement. Additional suggestions come from stakeholder groups and to individuals familiar with North Carolina’s transportation issues. In total, 157 separate suggestions are reviewed. These are analyzed by goal, time frame, mode, cost or savings potential, feasibility and regional equity.

Of the suggestions reviewed, 20 are recommended for immediate action, but no new ?revenues are called for. These recommendations are listed in the table below.

In the first category are six recommendations that concern major changes to the transportation program by increasing maintenance and concentrating expansions on statewide significance. A key step is to constrain the STIP2 by merit-based project selection, then shifting some of the savings to maintenance, major projects and rural safety. If fully implemented these recommendations would save about $ 50 million annually, reducing expenditures in some areas and increasing them in others.

In the second category are four recommendations intended to increase economic productivity and strengthen maintenance management and project selection, through head-to-head project evaluation, adding maintenance needs to funding formulas, and contracting out light maintenance. If implemented fully these would increases costs by about $ 30 million annually but result in better system condition and improved economic productivity.

In the third category are 10 lower-cost recommendations intended to strengthen long-range planning by refreshing the state’s vision for transportation, preparing an updated Long Range Plan and improving communications. Organizational efficiency is also addressed through increased design-build flexibility and strengthened measures of performance and project delivery. If implemented fully these recommendations would save about 1.1 million annually.

In total the 20 recommendations would save about $ 21 million annually and would substantially realign and refocus the transportation program on needed and affordable activities.

In addition to these recommendations, an additional 15 suggestions are also highlighted for consideration. The report also provides expanded discussion of several current topics, including public-private partnerships, tolling, pricing and managed lanes, Interstate widening and contracting maintenance. Detailed tables and descriptions for all suggestions are provided. All suggestions are fully documented.

Transportation Priorities for North Carolina


David T. Hartgen

David T. Hartgen is Emeritus Professor of Transportation Studies at UNC Charlotte. Professor Hartgen is widely known in transportation circles. He established UNC Charlotte's Center for Interdisciplinary Transportation Studies in 1989 and now teaches and conducts research in transportation policy and planning. He is the author of about 330 studies on a wide variety of topics in transportation policy and planning, is the U.S. editor of the international academic journal Transportation, and is active in professional organizations. He is a frequent media interviewee in local and national outlets. Before coming to Charlotte he directed the statistics, traffic forecasting and analysis functions of the New York State Department of Transportation and served as a Policy Analyst at the Federal Highway Administration. He holds engineering degrees from Duke University and Northwestern University. He has taught at SUNY Albany, Union College and Syracuse University and lectures widely. His studies of the comparative performance of transportation systems have received nation-wide attention. He has also recently completed a major component of Reason's Mobility Study that estimates the cost of significantly reducing road congestion nation-wide, a comprehensive study of congestion in North Carolina, and a comparative study of the 50 state highway systems . His current research includes an assessment of the economic impact of highways in South Carolina, a review of transportation performance for the provinces of Canada, a national study of business impacts of congestion, and an assessment of congestion in mid-sized cities.

M. Gregory Fields is a retired military officer with degrees from West Point, Webster University in St. Louis, and UNC Charlotte. He is enrolled in the PhD program in Urban Regional Analysis at UNC Charlotte and has participated in a number of comparative transportation studies.

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.

Baruch Feigenbaum is senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation.

Leonard Gilroy is vice president of government reform at Reason Foundation and senior managing director of Reason's Pension Integrity Project.