North Carolina, touted in the 1930’s as the “Good Roads State,” finds itself at a critical transportation crossroads. Transportation is a critical element for the future and profoundly impacts our economy, environment and overall quality of life, both now, and for future generations. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) has a budget of over $5 billion a year, making it the second largest state agency. NC DOT maintains the second largest state road network in the country, just smaller than in Texas.
How does this affect the average NC resident? For the typical family, transportation is the second biggest expense after housing, consuming about 20% of the family budget—that number is even more for low-income households. How we meet our mobility needs clearly is one of most pressing public policy issues.
Transportation issues are even more complex for NC’s abundant rural communities. Reliable transportation is needed for rural residents to access healthcare services, consumer services, employment and educational opportunities, and social services. It is also important for accessing recreation and other activities of daily life.
‘Transportation Choice’ is one important policy priority. We must provide a multimodal transportation system with options including transit, bike and pedestrian facilities. Transit options can include connector vans and even fee-based carriage (i.e., Uber and Lyft). For urban transport, investment in additional passenger and freight rail capacity is needed. We must also establish the link between land use and transportation opportunities. We have huge untapped potential to increase overall mobility and improve our communities by fostering better coordinated planning.
Related issues that must be addressed include providing affordable housing, including increasingly gentrifying urban neighborhoods; ensuring reasonable access to jobs for all citizens; and providing mobility options for our rapidly aging population, those with special needs and those without access to a car. Equally important, we must ensure that we protect our air and water quality, and promote public health. Lack of biking and walking opportunities alone created by our infrastructure choices shortens our lives and creates a time bomb of future health care costs.
Want to make a difference? How can you get involved? NC Community Action Association is chartering a Transportation Think Tank initiative to consider these issues and propose multi-faceted solutions: addressing systems, infrastructure and policy. Is this an area of expertise for you? Would you like to be a part of this developing conversation? Initial meetings will be held in March, 2021 and will be held 100% virtually, making attendance from anywhere in the state feasible. For additional information, contact Elle Evans Peterson.