Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The inequities of NCDOT board

Dear Gov. Perdue, House Speaker Hackney, Senate President Pro Tem (corrected, with apologies) Basnight:

Your state Board of Transportation is ridiculous. Got your attention? Good. Here's why I say that:

I just received an e-mailed press release from my friends at the N.C. Department of Transportation, about committee assignments for that august body, the N.C. Board of Transportation. I had lost track of who my local representatives on the board are, so I decided to check it out. I popped up the online roster for the state transportation board, a body that has major sway in allocating state transportation money. Guess what I see. Charlotte – by far the state's largest city and largest urban area – has only one member: Developer John Collett.

Of the 14 divisions, we in Division 10 (Mecklenburg, Anson, Stanly, Cabarrus and Union counties – population 1,374,357) have exactly the same number of NCDOT board members as Division 14 – Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Polk, Swain and Transylvania counties – population 338,405. Notice how that's a little more than a third of the population of Mecklenburg alone (913,639).

Now obviously Division 14 needs representation, too. I'm not saying it doesn't. Rural areas shouldn't be overlooked just because they're small. But that doesn't make it right, or smart, to overlook urban areas just because they're big.

So let's take a look at the at-large members of the board, who are supposed to represent various interests. Let's see, there's an at-large member for State Ports and Aviation Issues. So it makes sense for that rep to be Leigh McNairy (again, corrected, with apologies) from Kinston, right? Sure, Kinston has no port, but at least it's on the Neuse River, isn't it? Only thing is, the state's ports are in City and Wilmington, neither of which has a rep on the DOT board.

Is it because of Kinston's vast airport – the state's busiest, and US Airways' largest hub and all that? Oops, I forgot! That would be Charlotte. There's even a Ports Authority Inland Terminal in Charlotte, ahem.

(If you give up on that Kinston mystery, here's a clue. The state-funded Global TransPark – a yet-to-bear-fruit effort that attempted to revive all of Eastern North Carolina by building a big airfield – is in Kinston. Well, now there's a parts factory there, too. Whew. I was starting to get worried that that Kinston appointment didn't make any sense.)

There's an at-large member for "rural issues." The position appears to be unfilled. Hmm, I wonder who's the at-large member for "urban issues." Guess what. There isn't one. But don't cities have urban-style issues in much the way rural areas have rural-style issues? Don't they deserve some attention too? Gov. Perdue, please hop on this.

There's an at-large member for environmental issues. Good! That's forward thinking. That member is from Raleigh, Nina Szlosberg-Landis. So the cities in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) get two board slots, because the District 5 member, Chuck Watts, is from Durham.

There's an at-large member for government-related finance and accounting issues (huh?). He's Ronnie Wall from Burlington.

Aha. Here's an at-large member for mass transit. Since Charlotte has the only light rail transit system in the state, and is the only city with funding to build the state's only streetcar system, and has the largest bus system and the only dedicated sales tax for transit in the state, it makes all kinds of sense that the at-large member for transit is – Andrew Perkins, from Greensboro?

And that gives the cities in the Triad (Greenboro, Winston-Salem and High Point) two board members as well, since the District 9 member is Ralph Womble from Winston-Salem.

Throwing aside the ridiculous way in which the DOT districts are configured (dating to where the state prisons were located, and I am not making that up), it's fair for all sections of the state to have voices on the board. But it isn't fair for people in cities to be disproportionately voiceless.

Charlotte and the state's other cities are the economic engines of North Carolina. When they sink, the state's economy sinks. That should be reflected in all state policies, not just transportation. It simply makes no sense that they get disproportionately tiny attention when it comes to transportation representation, or any other forms of representation.

I'm guessing the legislature can change those silly DOT districts. But when it comes time to make appointments, Gov. Perdue, Rep. Hackney and Sen. Basnight, could you please notice that your largest city – you know, the one with the busiest airport, the biggest traffic problems, the biggest mass transit system – might need a little more representation on your state transportation board?


Karl said...

So now we don't even get "Comment deleted by an administrator." Instead, Mary is just straight up deleting them, as she just did with Sam's.

If you can't stand criticism of your comments, you need to stop blogging.

Damon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Newsom said...

Dear "Karl":

Are you "Sam" in disguise?

I allow plenty of criticism of my own and others' opinions here, as you probably well know.

When "Sam"'s comments are deleted it's because they are irrelevant to the topic at hand as well as personally insulting. And let me add tiresome, since he always says the same thing. At least the other insulting people here come up with new things to say before they get deleted.

Kyle Merville said...

Thanks Marry for pointing out that you allow criticism.

While we're at it - I don't think many of the people that live within this city have true understanding how how influential transportation dollars are on their lives.

Building a new highway promotes sprawl, which can degrade the environment, local towns, small cities, increase traffic, and change a once rural landscape.

High traffic and levels of congestion can lead to lower involvement in the community, and therefore lower participation in the local PTA, lower test scores, and higher crime. There are so many studies out there that reflect just how crucial the link between transportation and the many choices we make in our life. Take this little tidbit: besides getting married, having a shorter commute is the number one thing that makes people happy.

It makes me so mad that this state refuses to disperse transportation money in a way to promote economic development in the cities, all while we are paying billions for roads (and runways) to nowhere - LITERALLY. All this while the economic generators in the state (the large cities) are suffering in their own traffic and having to come up with many additional measures to fund transportation.

This deficit spending the state has been in with putting all the money towards building new roads, low maintenance budgets, and low mass transportation spending is going to catch up with us one day. When it does, if the rural counties are still in strong control, our state will have a huge funding/spending mismatch between the house (where the money is collected in the cities) and the senate (where the money is spread out unequally among the 14 districts).

For those that say this is a partisan issue - our fomer Mayor Pat ran as a Republican on the premise of changing how money in this state is divided up for transportation - clearly realizing the link between transportation, industry, commerce, and every other important facet of life.

Larry said...

I would be happy to serve on the board but I am honest and don't drink so that would make me a party pooper in Raleigh.

On the more helpful side I would provide lots of information, business expertise and keep my fellow citizens informed and watch every penny.... oh I see the problem.

Ghoul said...

Sam is right, how can you criticize a system you personally, and the editorial board at the Observer, have endorsed for 20 years? The system that has been riddled with corruption and graft for so long is the new normal.

The Democrat powers of the Eastern part of the state have rule for 150 years, paving every dirt road and trail, ringing Raleigh 3 times, building a ring around New Bern ( I wonder who is from there) before building a sub par road system in the state's biggest city, mostly just to cut the nose off to spite their own face, since road bring growth, and growth brings in new tax revenue for the old boys' network to pad their own pockets.

If you need someone to blame, look in the mirror

consultant said...

Like so many of the out of whack fundamentals in our country, the various state DOTs need to be closed. They no longer serve the needs of the states. They do, however, serve the needs of private road contractors. Which seems to be the only reason for their continued existence.

Call their power a legacy of the Interstate Highway system. Call it what you want, but they need to go.

State DOTs are almost to a state a repository for cronyism, kickbacks, rural/small town domination, rural/small town interests, soviet style bureaucracies and a fetish for building roads and highways over just about anything else.

A few years ago in Kansas City, Missouri, a senior engineer from the Missouri DOT made a recommendation to build a highway like barrier down 47th street, right through the Country Club Plaza.

If you've ever been to Kansas City and seen the Plaza, it is a lovely place, much beloved in the city.

Well in response to the MODOT proposal, there was a mighty roar from citizens; Democrats, Republicans, black, white, rich, poor, you name it. They basically said is this guy nuts! No way is the DOT going to run a freeway through the Plaza.

The proposal was quickly killed. I don't know what happened to the engineer. He probably relocated to South Carolina.

State DOTs seem to have a knack for finding people who eat tater tots, hate cities and like to build roads and highways. They seem to especially like yellow paint, those concrete barriers down the middle of a road, and taking tax dollars generated in metro areas and spending them lavishly in rural areas.

What makes me mad is the way rural (hick) legislators bad mouth urban areas while at the same time, through the DOTs, take the cash mostly generated in urban areas and build lightly traveled roads to grandma's house in the country.

Part of the political problem for urban areas is that often our suburban (hick) areas wind up supporting rural (hick) areas over the traditional core cities. So you have the the city, as in Charlotte, against the rest of the state. Or Kansas City and St. Louis, against the rest of the state.

The suburban (hick) legislators are willing to sacrifice the transportation agenda of the metro area for an alliance with rural (hick) legislators on many other issues.

Joe said...

Thanks for deleting the same old political partisan whiners blather. It would be nice to read thoughtful dialogue without having to sift thru all the lame partisan drivel blaming Democrats and the Observer for every ill that befalls mankind. Simply put-its way past old. That aside.
I will be watching to see if your concerns get the attention of our Governor and thanks for pointing out these glaring inequities in representation.
Please folks! Your wasting your time and others for whatever reason, blathering the same bile under multiple screen names. Some of us are actually interested in something besides partisan attack-mode/smear spew. Get a life!

Jessica said...

What does a regional accent (which I'm assuming Sam is pointing out with his continued use of "Haaaaaavvvvaaard") have to do with NCDOT?

I don't know much about NCDOT and how it is operated; something I need to educate myself on.

PS Sam: Both Rs should be dropped for the correct non-rhoticity/broad A accent of New England: "Ha-vahd"

John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
consultant said...


We're trying to have a civil discussion here. Okay?

What's your opinion on the alliance between suburban and rural legislators to subvert the transportation needs of our cities?

John said...


You're the least civil person on this entire board and should have been banned months ago.

The answer to your question, however, is simple: No governmental body, be it state or federal, should have the power to collect wealth from the populace at large and redistribute it.

The irony of course is that Mary grumbles on and on about the so-called "disconnect" between Charlotte and the County and the towns and the surrounding counties re: transportation, yet she also grumbles about this statewide body. Here's a clue: you can't endorse so-called "regionalism" without understanding that some politicians will use the "regionalism" excuse to expand the scope of said "region" to suit their own cronies' definition thereof.

Google "stossel traffic lights"; the first link will tell you all you need to know about the efficacy of .gov central planning.

consultant said...


Who is the best planner:

BP, Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup, General Motors, Enron, Countrywide, IndyMac, The Bank of Currituck, NCDOT?

This is not a trick question.

Karl said...

No, Mary, I am not "Sam" in disguise. I'm merely a commenter who noticed Sam's post and then noticed that Sam's post was disappeared, Soviet-style, from your blog. Your tactics would make George Orwell proud.

As long as you continue to censor posts that you don't like but allow certain people -- and I think we all know to whom I am referring -- to condescendingly insult other commenters with ad hominem attacks, then you have ZERO credibility. Censor none or censor all or prove your bias. Those are your choices.

As for my opinion on this: It's typical that liberals such as yourself complain when tax money isn't spent on them -- because your modus operandi is to call for taxes and then expect others to pick up the bulk of the burden. You HATE having to pay for someone else's goodies. Right? Myself, I'd prefer not to pay tax money for needless projects no matter WHERE they occur in the state. The way I see it, Charlotte not getting a bunch of extra tax dollars to waste on frivolity such as the streetcar and light rail is just karma rearing its head.

consultant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karl said...

Show me where I used the word "ban", please.

Learn to read.

consultant said...

Here is a typical struggle that takes place at the state level around transportation issues:

Mary Newsom said...

Dear "Consultant": Ahem. Don't call people "hicks" or "hillbillies." Both my parents grew up in tiny towns in Arkansas so, yeah, I take it personally. And stop being so confrontational or you'll end up on the "always-deleted list."

Dear "Karl": Please check your literary allusions. George Orwell was against Stalinist oppression of free speech.

Also, censorship is when the government tells you you can't publish something, like the Pentagon Papers. A private business (for instance, a newspaper) every day gets to choose what to publish and what not to. Otherwise, and please trust me on this as I know whereof I speak, you'd be reading a lot of very long and boring "Buzz" items as well as incoherent letters to the editor. This exercise in which the private enterprise chooses what to publish, and what not to, is not censorship. We call it "editing."

And since gives me several options for how to delete comments, sometimes I use several options. Guess what. It's my blog.

And, "Karl," if you continue to imply that I delete only comments with which I disagree then you're either delusional or being willfully untruthful.

Karl said...

Dear "Karl": Please check your literary allusions. George Orwell was against Stalinist oppression of free speech.

Yes, I know that. I've only read "1984" about a hundred times. He'd be proud to see that his predictions of what could happen were by and large correct -- just off by a few decades.

Can we hope that you will continue to police "consultant" as thoroughly as you have been policing the rest of us? And by that, I am referring to any post in which "consultant" insults any of us or anyone else around here with "hick", "hillbillie", or any of their other usual insults?

consultant said...

George Orwell's '1984' and 'Animal Farm' are brilliant, disturbing allegories of a world under centralized, authoritarian control.

But I think the book that most accurately captures where we are in America today is Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World', first published in 1932. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

We have become desensitized, cynical and infantile to the point where we don't take ourselves and the world we live in seriously.

In the world described by Huxley, you don't have to forcibly enslave people, people willing submit to slavery.

How does this happen?

We are a country that has pursued entertainment, distraction and leisure to their logical conclusion. As a result, we don't take anything seriously anymore.

We can't be bothered to work impossibly hard, to save and build for the future, to have to face and live with our mortality, to hear hard differing opinions and work through them, to actually fight for what we believe in.

No, in our current country, let's import new slaves from around the world to work for next to nothing. Getting old? Take this pill or spa treatment to mask it, slow it down or stop it. You don't like what someone says, please, hit the delete button or ban them. Anything rather than hear what they have to say. When you have to go to war, what do you do? Go shopping! And if the war last too long, hire mercenaries to fight for you.

We started out as nation with all the problems of older societies, that sought to remake itself with an abundance of hope and practicality. No one in the early days ever thought they could get something for nothing, and if they did, they could get away with it for long. Reality was never far away.

We are no longer that nation.

We have fully realized Huxley's vision that you don't need a fist to take down a society. 500 cable channels will do.

FKA Cato said...

We are a country that has pursued entertainment, distraction and leisure to their logical conclusion. As a result, we don't take anything seriously anymore.

If true, I wonder if the return of young professionals to urban life is also symptomatic of this. In prior, more "serious" generations, people were expected to have started families by their mid-late twenties. My impression is that the urban professional class puts this off for at least half a decade, often more.

This isn't entirely bad. Marrying later likely lowers the probability of divorce, for example (however, it also lowers fertility rates, which will be an ongoing problem for increasingly urbanizing populations - or at least that portion of them not on public assistance - but I digress). But the time prior to this, especially when spent in an urban environment, can turn into a kind of protracted adolescence built almost entirely around "entertainment, distraction and leisure."

FKA Cato said...

Regarding Sam, at first I was annoyed with the monotony and irrelevance of his comments. But after a while, I have to admit that I became impressed with his diligence in sharing them.

Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

Nail on the head, consultant.

Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

FKA Cato (and other old 'serious' people),

Young professionals pursue the same distractions regardless of whether we have to drive to get there. Many things work against the prospect of starting a family now-a-days that prior 'serious' generations didn't have to worry about.

Education requirements; an associate or bachelor degree used to exceed the necessary education required for a white collar job, but increasingly, higher education is a must. Many take the low paying job that a four year degree gets you and then take night classes to get their Master degree. Others forgo beginning their career to get their master or graduate degree quicker on the full-time schedule.

Wage Stagnation with Consumer Price Inflation; Wages for professional jobs have remained the same since 2001 but at the same time the price of consumer goods has increased. It has become more necessary than ever to have a two-income household. Also not conducive to starting a family.

It must be nice to have started your family 10-15 years ago when jobs were plentiful, everything was cheap, you could save for a few years and already have enough for a down payment for your first house (which was probably fully financed anyway).

So, I take personal exception to being considered less than 'serious' because my wife (who's an accountant) and I (who am a full-time grad student) are 25 and still live in an apartment and probably won't be able to afford a house and kids for another 5 years.

Count yourselves lucky, because us less than 'serious' people are the ones who have to live in the WASTELAND you older 'serious' people turned this country into!

EuroCat said...

The constant whining by EVERYBODY - from Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson to former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory to former State Senator Fern Shubert - about how we poor, beleagured Charlotte and Union County folks don't have enough DOT representation or get enough road money, has now, disappointingly, been joined by Mary Newsom.

Frankly, had we gotten LESS road money over the past 20 years, we'd be a heckuva lot better off. Fewer interchanges on I-485, no useless sprawl-generators such as Ardrey Kell Road, fewer interchanges on the proposed Monroe Connector (Union County had our own corrupt DOT Board Member Larry Helms back THEN, of course).

The worst of our regional sprawl: that blight that has flushed air quality down the toilet, CREATED rather than ameliorated congestion, and necessitated the borrowing of literally BILLIONS of dollars for school construction in Union and Mecklenburg Counties - has been caused by excessive road construction of the worst and most ill-conceived sort.

Jumper said...

As a former employee of a state DOT I know there are good people employed by NCDOT too. To tar all is unfair. If a citizen (or someone who wants to comment on various internet locales) can provide facts over invective, it will actually be more useful. This may, gasp, entail getting out into the real world and paying attention; and researching serious stuff rather than angertainment and rage-aholism ad nauseum.

Nice research, Mary. I appreciate learning of this. You should have, I think, referred to the board as "OUR state transportation board" in the last sentence.

Hi, Consultant. We often agree but I wonder if you too have been caught up in the ragy zeitgeist these days. I have the privilege of knowing some news people who have had to answer the phones, and open REALLY crazy letters, from some really demented folks, for years, far longer than the internet has been around. Many ouside of public life have remained unaware of this through the decades. Now, the whole phenomenon has ported to the internet. But it's the same stuff, it's just that more people are exposed to it. Some get infected by the addiction to anger.

Jumper said...

Wonder if the prisons were the base of the districts historically because of the use of chain-gang labor?