(Editor’s note: The N.C. Progress Board, a group created by state lawmakers to track trends in North Carolina and set goals for the state, issued its first report in December 2001.)
(Each week, the Philanthropy Journal spotlights an issue examined in the report. The goals, targets and analysis below are those of the Progress Board.)
As North Carolina has approached its goal of greater highway access, it may have compromised, if not impaired, its overall transportation efficiency — and its air quality as well.
Many public leaders would like to consider a strategic realignment of our transportation priorities.
Until the state shifts its focus from highway access to overall system efficiency, effectiveness and balance, research suggests the problem could get worse before it gets better.
Certainly, traffic congestion is expected to worsen, according to the Transportation Improvement Plan by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Such congestion not only increases motorist stress, fuel consumption and air pollution, but also undermines worker productivity and inflates the costs of goods and services.
To assure a solid competitive position with other states for quality economic growth, North Carolina will have to find new ways to improve the efficiency of its transportation system.
A large, access-driven highway system that promotes inefficiency and congestion — and is difficult to maintain — is not the answer.
Today, the state Transportation Department maintains one of the largest state-controlled road systems in the U.S.
In 2000, North Carolina ranked 2nd in the total number of miles under state control and 4th in the percentage of miles under state control, 79 percent.
However, a state-controlled highway system, while probably more efficient than a decentralized system, does not guarantee quality — not without effective planning.
The state’s traditional commitment to highways cannot be questioned.
During the 1990s, the state added over 4,600 lane miles to the state highway system, a 2.5 percent increase.
Voters approved a major bond issue in 1996.
Despite these investments, the quality of our highway system may not be nearly as good as we think it is.