The General Assembly finds that:
(1) Increased use of rail for transport of freight will reduce highway congestion as well as allow economic expansion in a way that lessens the impact on the State highway system.
(2) Public transportation, in addition to a program of urban loops and toll roads, will enable North Carolina to have a balanced 21st century transportation system.
(3) As part of its initial program of internal improvements, the State capitalized the North Carolina Railroad in the 1840s and invested in other railroads, and those internal improvements led to North Carolina's rapid economic development. The North Carolina Railroad, with a 317-mile corridor from Charlotte to Morehead City, is still owned by the State.
(4) Improved rail facilities and restoration of abandoned rail lines can allow increased access to the North Carolina State ports and military installations located within the State.
(5) Session Law 2005-222 found that expanding and upgrading passenger, freight, commuter, and short-line rail service is important to the economy of North Carolina; and provided that the State would seek to provide matching funds partly so it can leverage the maximum federal and private participation to fund needed rail initiatives, such as the restoration of the rail corridor from Wallace to Castle Hayne and a rail connection between north-south and east-west routes in the vicinity of Pembroke.
(6) Rail freight plays a vital role in economic development throughout the State. Intermodal service depends on partnerships with railroads, trucking companies, seaports, and others in the transportation logistics chain. North Carolina has 3,250 mainline miles of track, with Class I railroads holding seventy-nine percent (79%) of the trackage rights, the remainder controlled by local railroads and switching and terminal railroads. The 2006 Mid-Cycle Update to the North Carolina Statewide Intermodal Transportation Plan identified seven hundred ninety-nine million dollars ($799,000,000) in freight rail needs over the next 25 years, including maintenance and preservation, modernization, and expansion.
(7) North Carolina's short-line railroads play a key role in the State's economic development and transportation service and are needed to provide essential services to other modes of transportation and the North Carolina port system. North Carolina agriculture is dependent upon essential service by short-line railroads. State funds are needed to maintain short-line railroads as viable contributors to economic development, agriculture, and transportation in this State in order to prevent the loss of regional rail service. The Department of Transportation reported that 44,992 rail cars handled by short-lines kept 179,688 trucks off North Carolina highways. Short-line railroads are essential to preserve and develop jobs in rural and small urban areas of North Carolina.
(8) Intermodal facilities and inland ports can greatly reduce freight traffic on North Carolina's highway system, reducing demand, congestion, and damage.
(9) The proposed North Carolina International Terminal will need high-capacity intermodal access.
(10) Most of North Carolina's growth is in its urban regions. According to the State Data Center, during the first decade of the 21st century, sixty-six percent (66%) of the projected 1,270,000 growth in population is in 15 urban counties surrounding Charlotte, Raleigh, and the Triad, while forty percent (40%) is in just six counties: Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Orange, Forsyth, and Guilford.
(11) This large urban population growth greatly taxes resources. Despite the visionary creation of the Highway Trust Fund by the 1989 General Assembly and the funding of urban loop highways, congestion continues to worsen. Creation of a special fund to help meet urban transportation needs with alternatives such as rail transit and buses, coupled with land-use planning, will spur and guide economic development in a more economically and environmentally sound manner. Investment in public transportation facilitates economic opportunity to the State through job creation, access to employment, and residential and commercial development. Public transportation also protects the public health by decreasing air pollution and reducing carbon emissions. It reduces traffic congestion, road expenditures, public and private parking costs, and the number of traffic accidents. Charlotte's recent success in opening the first phase of its light rail system, with ridership significantly over projections, shows that North Carolinians are willing to use transportation alternatives.
(12) Significant local revenues are needed to match State funds so that a major portion of the expenses is borne by the localities receiving the majority of the benefits. A local option sales tax for public transportation was approved by a fifty-eight percent (58%) favorable vote in Mecklenburg County in 1998 and reaffirmed by a seventy percent (70%) favorable vote in 2007. Extending this authority to additional jurisdictions, along with other revenue options, will enable localities to demonstrate local support for additional transit options.
(13) Surveys have indicated broad public support for providing additional public transportation options and for allowing localities to generate revenue to match State grants. (2009-527, s. 1.)
Last modified: March 23, 2014