By Bill Holloway
North Carolina has developed a new set of transportation project prioritization criteria officials hope will bring greater efficiency and objectivity to transportation investment. The criteria were developed in response to the passage last June of the state’s Strategic Transportation Investments law. Lawmakers and transportation officials have noted that the prioritization scheme will shift more funding towards urban areas due to the use of congestion as a primary factor.
Transportation projects will be divided into three categories, with separate scoring criteria for each. Statewide projects, which receive 40 percent of available funding, will be prioritized on an entirely quantitative basis according to their benefit/cost ratio, congestion, economic impact, safety, and impact on freight and military traffic. Regional projects will receive 30 percent of funding, which will be allocated among seven NCDOT regions according to population. Regional projects will be evaluated using a scorecard similar to those for statewide projects but will also include local rankings by NCDOT divisions and area planning organizations, which will account for 30 percent of the decision. Division- level projects that address local concerns will receive the remaining 30 percent of available funding, with half of project prioritization being based on local rankings.
The new prioritization scheme will go into effect in 2015. Many states are grappling with the same issues facing North Carolina, and the conflict between ensuring geographical equity and return on investment is a common one. The compromise in the Strategic Transportation Investments law could point the way forward for other states interested in bringing more focus to their transportation investments.
Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.