MEDIA RELEASE: Expert tells lawmakers: "Put the money where the traffic is"

To end congestion, says transportation policy analyst, we must take bold steps to empower local governments and create a formula that builds better roads - but only where they're needed
RALEIGH (April 6, 2010) - To ease traffic congestion doesn't just require building new roads: it means rethinking the way we plan North Carolina's transportation needs, an expert told legislators this morning.
We can build infrastructure that meets the challenge of the future, Dr. Stephen Jackson of the NC Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center testified before the Joint Transportation Committee today. But to do do requires bold steps to empower local governments and forward-thinking initiatives to send transportation funds where most people live.
"Building better roads and road networks in our urban areas is necessary, but can't solve the problem alone," said Jackson. "To combat sprawl, we also must build better public transportation, encourage more compact growth, and change our funding priorities."
One prime example of why changing those funding priorities is necessary: urban congestion is a major problem in North Carolina, while traffic in rural areas is stagnant. Instead of mandating roads in places fewer and fewer people are driving, Jackson said, we should the formula which currently guides where new roads are built.
He urged adoption of a new formula that encourages building where the people are - allocating funds mostly based on population.
Perhaps the most bold of Jackson's prescriptions is to enhance local responsibility for transportation needs, which would empower local communities and relieve some of state government's burdens.
Reducing state responsibility in some avenues would enable policymakers to focus on the major roads that form the backbone of the road network and carry the most traffic.
"We can start now with counties adopting responsibility for construction and improvement of secondary roads," said Jackson. "From there, we can continue to empower our local communities to put the dollars where they need to be."
North Carolina should give counties and municipalities new revenue powers, said Jackson, which could include a local gas tax, vehicle utility fees, or transportation impact fees. Revenue should also be used for maintenance and operations as well as construction, he said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Dr. Stephen Jackson, 585.317.8968; Jeff Shaw, communications director, 919.836.2402 (office) 503.551.3615 (mobile),

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER : To get real-time regular updates from Justice Center staff, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Get news releases, quick observations and be the first to know when a new report is out. Also see the Twitter list of Justice Center and NC Policy Watch staff.