One of the things about a new administration is that it promises a fresh start. New faces, new beginnings. Unfortunately that may not be the case with Governor Cooper’s new Secretary of Transportation.
Yesterday Cooper announced he had appointed Jim Trogdon as the new Secretary of Transportation. While Trogdon may be new to the position, he is a familiar face around NCDOT. He capped a 22-year transportation career with a four year stint as Chief Operating Officer before leaving to work for Atkins, a transportation consulting firm, in October 2013.
In early 2013, you may remember, our toll fight was just ramping up. We held our first public meeting in February of that year. Our first encounter with Trogdon was at the end of that month when NCDOT held an “information session” about the I-77 toll project. They assembled several top guns to explain why this was a good project, headlined by Trogdon.
During that meeting and a prior interview, he stated (among other things) that money would not be available for general purpose lanes for at least 20 years; that a comparable general purpose lane project would cost $500 million; and that tolls would average $0.10- $0.15 per mile. He doubted that a general purpose lane project would ever be ranked high enough to be funded.
In short, these were the typical pro-toll arguments we heard at the beginning of our fight, all of which have been subsequently debunked.
Perhaps no single point was further off than the $0.10 mile estimate, which equates to a ~$5 round trip. He mentioned this even though their own internal estimates done six months earlier anticipated over $20 for a round trip, more than four times his stated estimate.
Shortly after that meeting we contacted him to question some of his comments. We received a stern email saying he “counted (us) in the free lanes or no lanes advocacy group based on the misinfo I have already read and statements you have made similar to the ones you just forwarded to me.” Ouch.
Back then, you may recall, public officials often accused us of “spreading misinformation.” We got used to it. But what really floored us was his statement that all additional interstate capacity should be toll lanes. Here is the quote (emphasis added):
My perspective on why express lanes should be how we add future capacity to all our interstates is founded on a strategic view of population growth and the reality of declining revenue over the next two to three decades with the status quo approach.
So there you have it. The new North Carolina Secretary of Transportation wants every new lane to be tolled.
We hope, of course, that the events of the last four years may have changed his mind. We hope, especially given the contract we are stuck with, that he would approach cancelling this project with an open mind.
We hope. But we’re obviously concerned.
Trogdon must be confirmed by the Senate.