Local News

Gubernatorial Candidates Criticize DOT at Transportation Summit

Posted April 15, 2008 7:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2008 10:29 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Transportation, dogged in recent months by a state audit and a consultant's report that described it as lacking direction, received more criticism Tuesday.

Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates took part in a Transportation Summit at the Embassy Suites in Research Triangle Park.

"The bureaucracy there (at the DOT) causes traffic jams, not just internal to the department but on our highways," Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said. She's seeking the Democratic nomination.

Delays in highway and bridge construction cost North Carolina taxpayers at least $152 million in recent years, according to a state audit released in February.

The State Auditor's Office examined 390 highway and bridge projects completed across the state between April 2004 and last March and found that work on almost three-fourths of them didn't start in the year they were supposed to start. Forty percent of the projects started more than a year late.

"It's an organization that has not been innovative and it's an organization not preparing for growth. It's reacting to growth, and once you react, you waited too long," Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican candidate, said.

A consultant's report, released late last year, said DOT projects proceed slowly because of a lack of prioritization, accountability and coordination.

"There's been a failure of leadership," McCrory said of the DOT.

DOT workers, interviewed for the consultant's report, said the agency is too political. Many also said there was a lack of vision and accountability at the DOT, and one employee wrote that it seemed like no one is in charge.

"We can't keep doing things the same old way," Perdue said of the DOT.

International management consultant McKinsey & Co., which prepared the 472-page report, is helping the DOT implement efficiency changes.

"We're gonna have to have new leadership at the DOT and we're gonna have to have a new culture at the DOT,"  Sen. Fred Smith, a Republican candidate, said.

"It's not just the secretary. It starts with the governor's office. The first thing the governor should do is not politicize the board in which he appoints," McCrory said.

A DOT spokesman said Tuesday he was not surprised the candidates criticized the agency. Transportation is a hot issue this election year, he said.

Of the candidates for governor, State Treasurer Richard Moore, who's seeking the Democratic nomination, was the only no-show at the Transportation Summit.