Key strategies for using BIL to invest in equitable transportation for North Carolina

Coral Lin

With an additional $8.7 billion in funding through 2026 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and clean transportation leadership from Governor Roy Cooper’s office, North Carolina has a renewed opportunity for investments in clean and equitable transportation options.[1]

Given the state legislature’s inaction on sustainable and equitable transportation, advocates should look to influence decision makers at the local level. North Carolina’s 37 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and rural planning organizations (RPOs) shape local and regional transportation projects in the funding prioritization process. 

Currently, the state’s funding processes prioritize building more highways, but through BIL, North Carolina can re-prioritize funds towards healthier and more sustainable alternatives. While roadblocks remain, North Carolina should focus on leveraging funding earmarked in BIL for the state’s climate goals. BIL includes $109 million for EV infrastructure, $171 million for emissions reduction, and $194 million for resiliency, North Carolina must utilize these monumental investments for climate in BIL towards supporting Clean Transportation Plan priorities, including reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita, supporting statewide vehicle electrification, and preparing for and adapting to extreme weather and climate change. 

Additionally, BIL invests $920 million for public transit. Public transit investment reduces greenhouse gas emissions while improving transportation equity and access throughout the state. The state must use this funding opportunity to strengthen transit connectivity, particularly in historically disinvested BIPOC and rural areas.  

Justice40, a Biden administration directive to move 40% of federal funds, can be utilized to lead transportation equity efforts in the state. Many federal transportation programs are included in Justice40 covered programs, and NCDOT has compiled data in its Environmental Justice / Transportation Disadvantage Index maps to identify communities most in need of investment.[2] Combining federal and state priorities and resources will help allocate transportation funding to the communities where it is needed most—but not without obstacles.

North Carolina is home to the second largest highway system in the country.[3] Highways have historically cut through and displaced Black neighborhoods and continue to harm BIPOC and low-income residents today with the health, environmental, economic, and social costs associated with living near major roadways.[4]

Yet, historically, NCDOT’s revenue comes from motor fuel taxes, DMV fees, and highway use taxes.[5] However, due to better fuel efficiency and falling revenues from motor fuel taxes, the state legislature voted to use $193 million of sales tax revenue for NCDOT funding.[6] By 2025, six percent of sales tax revenue ($600 million a year) will flow to NCDOT.[7] This figure may grow as the fuel efficiency of vehicles and the number of electric vehicles on our roads continue to increase. 

Incentives in the current transportation funding structure incentivize more highway construction at the detriment of low-income communities of color and those who do not or cannot rely on driving. The allocation of sales tax in North Carolina means that the tax dollars collected from everyday purchases may not result in tangible benefits. People of color,young kids and teens, older people, people with disabilities, and residents who live below the federal poverty level are more likely to use active or public transit than drive alone.[8] For example, the majority of the sales tax generated from a mother buying her child a bike would not go, by state law, towards building infrastructure that makes biking to school or around their neighborhood safer. 

North Carolinians deserve their dollars to go towards mobility choices that will benefit communities. The state faces the biggest opportunity in decades to create environments that are safer, healthier, and more connected for everyone—however, it cannot meet the moment without making significant changes to the state transportation law with local support and implementation. State advocates must urge state lawmakers to rewrite sections that limit transportation transformation and push MPOs and RPOs to prioritize climate and environmental justice.  

[1]US Department of Transportation, (n.d.) “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Will Deliver for North Carolina,”; North Carolina Department of Transportation, (n.d.) “NC Clean Transportation Plan,”

[2] North Carolina Department of Transportation, (n.d.), “Environmental Justice/Transportation Disadvantage Index,”; The White House, (2022), “Justice40 Covered Programs List,”

[3] North Carolina Department of Transportation, (2021), “2021 Annual Report,”

[4] Karas, David. (2015). “Highway to Inequity: The Disparate Impact of the Interstate Highway System on Poor and Minority Communities in American Cities,” New Visions for Public Affairs, Volume 7.

[5] North Carolina Department of Transportation, (n.d.) “Finance & Budget.”

[6] Leslie, L. (2022), NC lawmakers transfer $193 million in sales tax revenue to NCDOT, WRAL,

[7] Ibid.

[8] North Carolina Justice Center, (2021.) “The Budget Story: Transportation infrastructure connects people, business, and communities.”; US Department of Transportation, (n.d.) “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Will Deliver for North Carolina.” 

One thought on “Key strategies for using BIL to invest in equitable transportation for North Carolina

  1. Hi Coral,

    You do a really nice job of describing the granular impacts that BIL funding will have in North Carolina. I did not know that North Carolina has the second most highways in the country, but this fact does not surprise me after having a car on campus this year and learning how to get around the area. Something I am wondering about is the process for deploying the funds to communities throughout the state. Even if the state government possesses the money, what would happen if there is opposition to new transportation infrastructure at the municipal level? I am thinking about the failure of the proposed light rail system between Durham and Chapel Hill a few years ago. Key stakeholders in the Triangle, including Duke Health, opposed the construction and therefore the light rail was not built. Since the money is already allocated and not dependent on state taxpayer dollars, I wonder if there would be significant local opposition to new public transportation or EV infrastructure. BIL funding does seem like a promising angle to create more equitable and accessible transportation in the state because it circumvents inaction in the general assembly.

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