(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.)
Given North Carolina’s history and geographic dispersion, it is not surprising that its mass transit systems are relatively small.
In 1998, North Carolina was ranked 37th in the U.S. in urban mass transit system availability, as measured by the Federal Transportation Administration’s carrying capacity indicator.
This represents an improvement from its national ranking of 43rd in 1992, but it is by no means a satisfactory performance rating for the 11th-largest state, and one that is rapidly becoming more urbanized.
The state’s largest urban regions have public transit systems, but they are relatively small, by urban standards, and lack rail components.
The Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and Triad metro areas are authorized to establish regional transit authorities, but only Raleigh-Durham has done so.
Efforts by regional leaders in the Triangle to build a $622 million, 35-mile light rail systems have not yet secured federal funding.
The state did increase mass-transit funding during the 1990s, but greater investments will be needed to make public transportation systems cost-effective alternatives to driving, and thereby reduce traffic congestion and promote commerce.
Inter-city passenger rail service also remains an unfilled dream.
While such service, ranging from intrastate to high-speed rail service, is available to North Carolinians, it is relatively limited. The state Department of Transportation contracts with Amtrak to provide inter-city passenger rail service that connects major North Carolina cities with the entire Eastern seaboard.
The Transportation Department is working with Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and local governments to expand passenger rail service in Western North Carolina.
One barrier is that all rail service providers, including freight rail companies, operate on the same right-of-ways.