With the NCDOT public hearing coming up this week, it’s an appropriate time to review some of NCDOT’s recent actions. Even the most jaded observer would have to raise an eyebrow:
Item 1: Environmental Assessment
As required by federal law, the NCDOT had an environmental assessment performed on the proposed HOT lane plan. Typically these are 20 year projections. The recently completed EA for the HOT lanes only goes out to 2017.
Given the most optimistic estmates put the HOT lanes in operation by 2015, this “assessment” only takes into account two years of operation! Further, it fails to look at the impact to secondary roads of restricting capacity and ensuring congestion, phenomena unique to HOT lanes.
As you know, we strive to be factual on this blog, but this “assessment” can only be described as farce. The official rationale is the project represents “an immediate need.”
Item 2: Survey “Proving” Public Support for HOT Lanes
NCDOT and other sponsoring agencies have widely disseminated a survey they claim demonstrate the public’s support. Here are the results:NCDOT touts “56% of respondents support toll lanes.” But as with any survey, the results depend on the questions. I found it suspicious that the question was not included on the glossy brochure, but after a bit of digging found what what they asked:
“If given a choice of getting the toll lanes now or having some additional enhancement at some undetermined time in the future, which would you prefer?”
Citing results from a loaded question is a poor way to gain public trust.
Item 3: The Contract
The current contract grants a private company the exclusive access to build and operate toll lanes along I-77 for 50 years. As we’ve reported elsewhere, a cursory reading of the contract shows the taxpayer is at substantial risk. So who exactly wrote this contract? I was under the impression it was the State of North Carolina.
As it turns out, a California Law Firm specializing in P3 legislation wrote most of it. They count among their “successes” the nearly-bankrupt Orange County Tolling Authority. They were assisted by KPMG and Parsons-Brinkerhoff, both consultancies with managed lanes practices. In other words, the contract was written by the tolling industry itself.
So who is looking out for the taxpayer?
North Carolina state law requires publicly operated toll road contracts to be reviewed by the State Attorney General. There is no such restriction for privately operated toll lanes.