RALEIGH, -- While many people still spend lots of time in rush hour traffic going to and from work, advocates for spending more on public transit are pointing to a new report on driving to argue for more funding for highway alternatives.
Per-person driving miles have decreased almost 8 percent in the state since 2005, according to a new report from the N.C. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (NC PIRG).
Karen Rindge, executive director of Wake Up Wake County, a grassroots citizens' group, said part of the reduction in driving has to do with shifting populations: Young people, senior citizens and Hispanics are all using public transit more, for a variety of reasons.
"These are all groups of people that increasingly want, need and use public transit," Rindge said. "Plus, they are all effected by the economy."
North Carolina joined 44 other states in reducing driving miles since the middle of the last decade. However, although the report indicated people are driving less, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center almost all state funding for new transportation construction goes to the development of highways, versus creating more bus transit, commuter rail lines, sidewalks and bike paths.
Phineas Baxandall authored the NC PIRG report. He said old habits die hard when it comes to the authorization of funds for highways.
"Politicians are pretty used to thinking about highways as political trophies. One of the messages of this report is that we shouldn't be spending money that we don't have on building highways that we don't need," Baxandall said.
Rindge said it's time for lawmakers to recognize the need for tax dollars to shift to public transit.
"If we don't catch up and keep up, it means we're going to see more sprawl, we're going to see our open space and our farms continue to be eaten up with suburbia," Rindge warned.
Wake County invested $5 million in developing a transit plan but has not reviewed it - and it was presented almost two years ago, Rindge said. Durham County - through a sales-tax referendum - is working to expand its bus plan and commuter rail to run between Durham, Raleigh and Garner. Orange County also passed a similar sales-tax referendum.
(With Contribution from Stephanie Carson, NC News Service)