Charlotte's traffic woes aren't going anywhere

From Max Borders, a Charlotte native and analyst at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh:

Recent publicity about the grip state Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, has on N.C. transportation resources have stirred up the Hornet's Nest. Sorely needed projects – such as the Yadkin River bridge bottlenecking I-85, or the completion of I-485 – have been perennially pushed aside by Eastern North Carolina projects supported by powerful politicians with pork on their fingertips. Let me explain.

In 1989, when the movie “Field of Dreams” was in theaters, the governor and General Assembly introduced highway reform legislation. They would use more transportation revenues to build roads in rural areas around the state for the sake of economic development. In other words: “If we build it, they will come.”

Trouble is, nobody came. The centerpiece of that legislation – the Equity Distribution Formula – remains to this day. But the formula is not terribly equitable if you think resources ought to track road usage. Instead, here's what the Equity Formula does: It takes a quarter of the state's Highway Trust Fund resources for building out the “intrastate system.”

Sounds OK, right? 'Til you get the translation – build four-lane highways in the middle of nowhere. All you have are pricey highways, exits and bridges in areas losing population.

Another quarter of the funds are divided “equally” among seven geographical super-districts with no connection whatsoever to population centers, traffic patterns, or any other factor that might help get road money to places that need it. Instead, they are drawn based on pre-Depression-era prison regions, because chain gangs were once used to build roads.

We have got to move away from political networks and outmoded formulas toward a system of prioritization that eliminates projects of excess. How? We allocate resources based on vehicle usage, maintenance needs, and safety – not highway boondoggles attached to “Field of Dreams” hopes or quid pro quo deals.