Backgrounder: North Carolina Strategic Transportation Investment Act
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will provide more than $300 billion in highway funding to state departments of transportation (DOT).1 Under federal law, state DOTs are responsible for transportation system planning and project selection. The US Department of Transportation primarily serves as a passive funder.2 In fact, when it comes to spending federal formula dollars, state DOTs have a “sovereign right…to determine which projects will be funded by the federal government.”3 States’ choices will significantly determine the extent to which the IIJA will advance inclusive growth and environmental sustainability.
Yet many states have constitutional provisions, laws and rules that limit how highway funds can be spent, requiring state and federal highway dollars to support projects designed to move more cars and trucks. excluding public transport, cycling and walking. According to the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials, 27 states have either a constitutional provision or law that limits the use of fuel tax revenues to highway and highway projects.4
North Carolina’s Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) Act focuses heavily on expanding freeways, locking in extra vehicle miles traveled and increasing emissions rather than building facilities that would provide people with safe, sustainable and affordable alternatives to driving. In fact, since 2018, 94% of all funding subject to TSI has gone to road projects focused on construction and expansion.5
The North Carolina Legislature should reform ITS to elevate transportation projects that move people safely and efficiently as opposed to projects that focus on vehicle throughput. The following 14 project selection criteria would help the North Carolina Department of Transportation prioritize projects that would provide safe, affordable, sustainable, and equitable mobility:
- Historical capital/divestment: A measurement of historical patterns of discrimination, disinvestment, and geographic isolation, with the goal of redressing historical inequalities and barriers to opportunity.
- Household transportation costs: A measure of the cost of transportation, which is the second largest expense after housing for most Americans. Its objective is to reduce household spending on transportation primarily by reducing reliance on driving and the need to own a private vehicle.
- Greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions: A measure of total and per capita GHG emissions, with the goal of eliminating GHG emissions from surface transportation.
- Vehicle mileage traveled: A measure of the total and per capita amount of driving each year, with the aim of reducing vehicle kilometers driven both per capita and on a total basis.
- Network connectivity: A measure of the extent to which the surface transportation system provides alternative routes or directs users to a limited number of arterial road corridors. Better network connectivity generally reduces distances traveled and congestion. The objective of this measure is to increase network connectivity.
- Efficiency/people flow: A measure of the number of people moving through a corridor in a particular time interval. Transit and non-motorized facilities move more people in a corridor than facilities designed to primarily serve automobiles. The objective of the measure is to increase the flow of people in the transport corridors.
- Non-motorized mode sharing: A measure of the percentage of trips taken other than by car or public transport, with the aim of increasing the share of trips taken by bicycle and on foot.
- Sharing mode of transportation: A measure of the percentage of trips taken by public transport, with the aim of increasing the share of trips taken by public transport.
- Accessibility of public transport: A measure of the share of jobs, housing and essential services that can be reached by public transit in a given travel time, such as 45 minutes. Greater accessibility to public transit increases ridership. The objective is to increase the share of jobs, housing and essential services accessible by public transit within a reasonable travel time.
- Average distance to transit: A measure of the average distance between transit lines and commercial and residential lots. Greater proximity to public transit services increases ridership. This measure aims to reduce the average distance to high-frequency public transit service.
- Transit progress: A measure of wait times between transit vehicles during peak and off-peak periods. A frequent transit service is a useful transit service. The objective of the measure is to reduce transit trips.
- Non-motorized installations: A measure of the presence of infrastructure dedicated to non-motorized users, with the aim of increasing the share of roads with dedicated and robust non-motorized infrastructure and traffic control systems.
- Security: A measure of the extent to which a project would reduce serious injuries and fatalities with additional weight given to projects that would reduce injuries and fatalities to vulnerable road users. The aim is to reduce serious injuries and fatalities from transport accidents, especially those involving vulnerable users.
- Asset conditions: Measuring the state of disrepair of surface transportation facilities, including roads, bridges, transit vehicles and related facilities, with the goal of increasing the share of transportation facilities in good condition.
It’s time for North Carolina to overhaul STI. Without reform, STI will continue to channel about 94% of surface transportation spending to highway projects with a focus on expansion. This will lock down driving and automobile addiction for decades to come. The state legislature should adopt evaluation criteria that elevate transportation projects that move people safely and efficiently as opposed to projects that focus on vehicle throughput. In short, STI should reward regions and projects that provide safe, affordable, sustainable and fair mobility.