RALEIGH – Transportation issues are already near the top of the list of policy priorities for many communities and voters in North Carolina. They know that the state’s roadways are inadequate and poorly maintained. They know traffic in some of the state’s major urban areas is bad and getting worse. They know that highway investments are not always made on the basis of moving the most people and freight for the dollar, but instead are guided by political and pork-barrel considerations.
Never fear, say many state and local politicians, we have a solution: mass transit. But if you press them for longer than a nanosecond they will usually admit that transit itself won’t work without another solution: forcing North Carolinians to live and work closer together in densely packed, Smart Growth communities.
Add in a mostly vacant Global TransPark; some unwise subsidies for other local airports, seaports, and ferry lines; and some truly lame-brained plans to squander additional millions of tax dollars running inter-city choo-choo trains, and you have North Carolina’s major transportation challenges in view.
Never fear, though: the John Locke Foundation is on the case. In our recent Agenda 2004 briefing book, we summarized some of the best-available data and presented recommendations for getting the state’s act together in transportation policy. As is the custom in these parts, our approach can be summarized as six simple tools for getting North Carolina moving:
· Dedicate all highway revenues to highway improvement. That means ending the diversion of taxes from the sale of cars and motor fuel to transit, bike paths, walkways, or the General Fund.
· Make more economical use of highway capacity, alleviate peak-hour congestion, and impose their costs more directly on high-volume users, by using electronic collection to make limited-access roads into toll roads.
· End all general taxpayer subsidies for the Global TransPark and other airport projects and improvements. Let passengers pay their own way through ticket fees and parking charges. Give the GTP to whatever local or private entity will take it.
· Sell the state-owned North Carolina Railroad and the two state ports at Wilmington and Morehead City to private interests. Use the proceeds to reduce state indebtedness or build additional road capacity.
· Suspend all design and construction work on proposed rail-transit systems in Charlotte and the Triangle. Get rid of the extra half-cent sales tax in Charlotte for the project and devote other state and local transportation revenue to infrastructure that most citizens will actually use.
· Reform the NC Department of Transportation to streamline operations, contract out more functions, and turn the Board of Transportation from a pork-stirrer to an advisory panel.
Our best estimate is that these moves could put as much as $470 million a year into real transportation investment in North Carolina, which would go a long way to reduce new-construction backlogs and improve the quality and safety of the roadways that we rely on for commuting, traveling, recreation, and economic vitality. An added bonus would be to focus the attention of public policymakers on the issues and technologies of the 21st century, rather than those of the 19th century, and to elevate personal freedom and autonomy over the central-planning mentality of all-too-many government bureaucrats.
Let’s get North Carolina moving, again.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.