Road pork and the Titanic

By: - February 22, 2008 1:14 pm


In the wake of a heavy evening of fine food, drink and flamenco music, committee members from the 21st Century Transportation Committee (21 CTC) continued their work at the UNC Wilmington Executive Center Thursday. There were some ‘highlights' in the proceedings:

Was that a Finance sub-committee member during its morning meeting making reference to a discussion at the Figure Eight Island party the night before? Wouldn't that discussion make that party a public meeting under our state's public meeting law? The party, hosted by Board of Transportation and 21st Century Transportation Committee (21 CTC) member, Lanny Wilson, was a strict invite-only affair. Invitees included BOT and 21 CTC members. Gee, I wonder what they talked about…

East Carolina Democrat, Senator Clark Jenkins made an impassioned defense of the Board of Transportation. Jenkins lauded their selfless work at low pay (no mention of fundraising activities and all the non-transport and transport policy quid pro quo that goes with that) and downplayed the significance of the $50 million or so in discretionary money Board members, the House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tem get to spend annually on their own pet road projects. To that I say: If this money is so insignificant, then abolish this porky program. It's not doing anything, but it is soaking 50 million a year. Why is the 21 CTC set to recommend the stopping of the transfer of some $170 million annually from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund while there are pork-laden spending policies in place? Surely, the road pork should stop before we even consider creating a hole in the General Fund. Stopping the transfer will do more harm to health, education and community services than the offset gains for the few lucky benefitting from the use of these road pork funds.

Senator Jenkins also had plenty to say about the equity formula that guides allocation of around two-thirds of the Highway Trust Fund dollars. Under that formula, east and mountain Carolinians get far more dollars spent per person on intra-state highways than those in the Piedmont. Something to ponder next time you are stuck in traffic in Charlotte or Raleigh. Changing it, he said, would be like shuffling the chairs on the Titanic. An unfortunate analogy, I must say. Is he saying transportation budget policy is a disaster? But it doesn't need changing?

The message out of the 21CTC is consistent: send more money. But while the DOT remains "largely stagnant with respect to building capacity and capability; has a limited ability to prioritize and fund projects; [and] has a mixed project performance record", why would you send more money? In the 2007 McKinsey report I just quoted ( , DOT is portrayed as an inefficient, dysfunctional money-pit.  I say no more money until that is fixed AND spending priorities are based purely on need.

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