Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Rocky Moretti (202) 262-0714
Carolyn Bonifas Kelly (703) 801-9212

Click here for the full report and a news conference recording.


Wilmington, NC – While additional state and federal transportation investment will allow North Carolina to improve its transportation system, the state’s ability to keep pace with growing transportation needs is threatened by the reduced purchasing power of motor fuel tax revenues due to inflation, improved vehicle fuel efficiency, and the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles. This is according to a new report from TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, DC, which looks at the condition, reliability, safety and funding needs of North Carolina’s roads, highways and bridges.

The TRIP report, Moving North Carolina Forward: Providing a Modern, Reliable and Sustainable Transportation System in the Tar Heel State,” finds that throughout North Carolina, one-third of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, seven percent of bridges (20 feet or more in length) are rated poor/structurally deficient, increasing traffic congestion impedes personal and commercial mobility, and the state’s traffic fatality rate rose significantly from 2019 to 2021.

To address a lack of adequate transportation funding, in 2022 the North Carolina legislature approved HB 103, which dedicated a portion of the state’s sales tax revenue to road and highway projects and is expected to provide an additional $7.2 billion in highway funds through FY 2032-2033. The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law by President Biden in November 2021, will also provide North Carolina with $7.8 billion over five years.  These additional funds will allow the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to increase its annual investment in roadway preservation and bridge preservation by 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively, from 2023 to 2032. While the increased investment will be helpful, it does not keep pace with increasing inflation. The national highway construction cost index, which measures labor and materials cost, increased by 50 percent during the 21 months from the start of the first quarter in January 2021 to the end of the third quarter in September 2022.

“North Carolina’s transportation infrastructure is essential to moving goods and people safely and efficiently,” said Gary Salamido, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber. “TRIP’s latest report underscores the critical need for investment in our state’s transportation network, such as those called for in Senate Bill 354, which would provide a needed, bipartisan approach to jumpstarting funding that will benefit all modes of transportation. While we have made great strides, our state’s leaders must continue to modernize transportation revenue streams to secure a prosperous, competitive future for North Carolina and its people.”

In the Wilmington area, 41 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing the average driver $544 annually in extra vehicle operating costs (VOC). Extra vehicle operating costs total $3.7 billion statewide and include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear. Statewide, one-third of major locally and state-maintained roads are deteriorated, with 10 percent in poor condition and 23 percent in mediocre condition. Driving on deteriorated roads costs the average North Carolina driver an additional $484 each year.

In 2022 NCDOT spent $656 million on the preservation of roads and highways, $341 million short of the $997 million annual investment recommended by NCDOT.

Three percent of bridges in the Wilmington area are in poor/structurally deficient condition, with significant deterioration to the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Statewide, seven percent of North Carolina’s bridges are rated poor/structurally deficient. Most bridges are designed to last 50 years before major overhaul or replacement, although many newer bridges are being designed to last 75 years or longer. In North Carolina, 32 percent of the state’s bridges are 50 years old or more.  In 2022 NCDOT spent $371 million on bridge preservation, $39 million short of the $410 million annual investment recommended.

“We are a county surrounded by bodies of water, which requires bridges to keep us connected to the mainland, all of which require regular maintenance and upkeep,” said Natalie Haskins English, CCE, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. “The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge (CFMB), which is beyond its 50-year lifespan, is a critical connection to the NC State Ports at Wilmington, to the workforce that commutes into Wilmington, and to the visitors that fuel our tourism economy.  A replacement is our top infrastructure priority and is not included in the current State Transportation Improvement Program.  We must identify additional funding to make it a reality.”

From 2000 to 2019, vehicle travel in North Carolina increased by 37 percent, the fifth highest rate in the country.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vehicle travel in North Carolina dropped by as much as 38 percent in April 2020 (as compared to vehicle travel during the same month the previous year).  By 2021, vehicle miles of travel (VMT) in North Carolina had rebounded to four percent below pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Congested roads, highways and bottlenecks choke commuting and commerce and cost North Carolina drivers $4 billion each year in the form of lost time and wasted fuel. The average Wilmington driver loses 26 hours to congestion each year and $646 in lost time and wasted fuel due to congestion.

The TRIP report includes a list of the 15 North Carolina highway segments with the lowest level of travel time reliability due to traffic congestion. The report also includes a list of the state’s top 10 freight bottlenecks, which cause the longest delays for freight travel.

Using a combination of programs and projects, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is taking steps to address North Carolina’s safety, traffic congestion and reliability challenges.  These efforts include the following: retiming of nearly 500 traffic signals to reduce delays and stops; the operation of five  Transportation Management Centers (TMC) throughout the state that manage freeway disruptions and clear incidents, and an Incident Management Assistance Patrol (IMAP) that provides services to stranded motorists and works with emergency responders to clear crash scenes quickly; the investment of approximately $4.6 billion since 2018 to increase the capacity of numerous highway segments, including the Fayetteville Outer Loop, the Greensboro Loop, the I-485 Charlotte Beltway, the Winston-Salem Bypass, the Wilmington Bypass, the I-85 corridor, the Goldsboro Bypass, the Salem Parkway and the Jamestown Bypass.

From 2017 to 2021, 7,387 people were killed in traffic crashes in North Carolina. The state’s 2021 traffic fatality rate of 1.38 fatalities for every 100 million miles traveled is slightly higher than the national average in 2021 of 1.35. Nationwide, traffic fatalities began to increase dramatically in 2020 even as vehicle travel rates plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the number of fatalities continued to increase in 2021. The number of fatalities in North Carolina increased 18 percent from 2019 to 2021, from 1,373 to 1,627, and the state’s fatality rate per 100 million VMT increased by 23 percent during that time, from 1.12 to 1.38. This dramatic increase in the number of fatalities and the rate of fatalities per 100 million VMT happened while vehicle travel in the state decreased by four percent overall from 2019 to 2021.

“North Carolina is putting the increased state and federal transportation dollars to good use and making needed improvements to its transportation network,” said Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director. “But, the state’s ability to provide a smooth, reliable and safe transportation system depends on long-term, consistent and sufficient funding. A safe and reliable transportation system that is maintained in good condition and offers improved mobility and accessibility to meet the needs of North Carolina residents, businesses, and tourists alike, is critical to keeping North Carolina mobile and moving the state forward.”


For additional information and local media requests, contact:
Elizabeth Lane
NC Chamber, 252.270.5362

Megan Mullins
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce