North Carolina Roads, Bridges Face Serious Investment Shortfall


North Carolina’s current level of transportation funding will not be enough to make needed improvements to the state’s transportation system to accommodate current and future levels of population, travel and economic growth. This is according to a new report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation organization. Over the next decade, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will have funds available for only 17 percent of needed transportation projects.

The TRIP report, “Keeping North Carolina Mobile: Progress and Challenges in Providing an Efficient, Safe and Well-Maintained Transportation System,” examines road and bridge conditions, travel trends, economic development, highway safety and transportation funding. Since 2000, the state’s population has grown 26 percent and is projected to increase another 20 percent by 2035. 

Vehicle miles of travel (VMT) in North Carolina increased 29 percent from 2000 to 2016 – the ninth highest rate of growth nationally. And, from just 2013 to 2016, VMT in North Carolina has increased by 10 percent. VMT in North Carolina is projected to increase another 25 percent by 2030.

Eighteen percent of North Carolina’s major locally and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in poor condition and 26 percent are rated in mediocre condition. Twenty-two percent of the state’s major urban roads are rated in fair condition and the remaining 34 percent are rated in good condition. 

Long-term repair costs increase significantly when road and bridge maintenance is deferred, as road and bridge deterioration accelerates later in the service life of a transportation facility and requires more costly repairs. Every $1 of deferred maintenance on roads and bridges costs an additional $4 to $5 in needed future repairs.

Ten percent of North Carolina’s bridges are structurally deficient, meaning there is significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge.

"North Carolina has consistently topped the charts as one of the most competitive states for business. That has not happened by accident,” said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber. “Our state’s leaders have been busy investing in our transportation network to meet the current and growing demands of a dynamic state economy. However, to retain current investments and attract new jobs, investments and expansions, North Carolina leaders must continue to find ways to diversify our revenue streams in order to fund the network for the future."

Increasing levels of traffic congestion cause significant delays in North Carolina, particularly in its larger urban areas, choking commuting and commerce.

Traffic crashes in North Carolina claimed the lives of 6,668 people between 2012 and 2016, an average of 1,334 fatalities per year. The number of traffic fatalities in the state increased four percent from 2015 to 2016. North Carolina’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.23 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is higher than the national average of 1.13.

The traffic fatality rate on North Carolina’s non-Interstate rural roads was more than four times higher than on all other roads and highways in the state in 2015 – 2.69 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel compared to 0.65. The 2015 national rural non-Interstate fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is 2.14.

NCDOT received requests from state and regional transportation agencies for $53 billion in needed road, highway and bridge projects for inclusion in the 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) but only had funding available to include $9 billion (17 percent) of projects in the 2018-2027 STIP.

NCDOT’s annual 2016 maintenance and performance report found that the department is currently spending $1.3 billion annually on repairing its roads, highways and bridges, but should be spending a minimum of $1.6 billion annually. Ideally, NCDOT should be spending $1.9 billion annually to improve the condition of its roads, highway and bridges.

“With an already large transportation funding shortfall, North Carolina is poised to see increasingly deteriorated and congested roads in the future,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “Additional transportation funding will allow the state to move forward with dozens of needed projects that will provide a smoother, safer and more efficient transportation system for drivers, and allow the state’s businesses to maintain and expand their competitive edge.”