North Carolina Turnpike Authority reduced to legal shell - staff integrated into NCDOT

June 2, 2010

North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA) has been subsumed into the state department of transportation. As of this month its staff have been dispersed across the state department of transportation, all answerable to different NCDOT chiefs. David Joyner executive director has lost all his staff except an assistant, we hear.

This afternoon after requests for an explanation we received this statement from Jim Trogdon, Chief Operating Officer for NCDOT on the integration of NCTA into NCDOT. We reproduce it in full:
"N.C. Turnpike Authority integrated into NCDOT operations
"The N.C. Department of Transportation has taken several steps to more seamlessly integrate the N.C. Turnpike Authority into NCDOT operations.
"Gov. Bev. Perdue in 2009 brought the Turnpike Authority under NCDOT to provide more efficiencies and better coordination of the two agencies' similar missions.
"Effective June 1, 2010, two additional steps have been initiated to further mesh the operations: The senior staff at the Turnpike Authority will now report directly to unit heads within DOT instead of a separate Turnpike reporting structure. As soon as practical, the Turnpike staff will move from offices on Glenwood Avenue into the NCDOT's headquarters at the Transportation Building in downtown Raleigh. That is expected to occur within the coming months.
"The Turnpike Authority was created in 2002. It has six toll projects in the works across the state in varying stages of development, from planning to construction. Creation of the Turnpike Authority as a separate entity made sense when the state began building from scratch an operation to get North Carolina into the toll highway business.
"Now, as NCDOT increasingly is employing innovative financing and operational tools, including tolling, to meet the state's transportation needs, it is valuable to have the Turnpike Authority's knowledge and experience within NCDOT. Likewise, as the authority's projects go from concept to construction, the unit will benefit from the extensive planning, development and construction resources within DOT." end official statement as first issued.

After we published this we were told the statement had been "updated to clarify that Turnpike Authority remains an ongoing entity within DOT."

Attention was drawn to a new last sentence:

"Under the new reporting structure, the Turnpike Authority remains an ongoing entity within NCDOT."

Heroic spin effort

Ted Vaden of NCDOT press relations insists we were wrong in writing that NCTA is "no more" or that that it has been "dissolved". OK we've dumped those words. We can see that it remains a legal entity.

It was created by legislation in 2002, it has its own board of directors, and it has entered into contracts.That hasn't changed.

However last year NCTA was brought into NCTA. But the Turnpike Authority was understood then to be intended to remain as a separate entity organizationally in terms of staff answering to the executive director, and the executive director to the board. As in Florida with Florida Turnpike Enterprise.

But today's organizational changes and new lines of authority wipe out any remaining identity of NCTA. With heads of different functions now reporting to separate NCDOT managers rather than to an executive director, NCTA is now an empty legal shell which no amount of PR spin can dress up.

CONTEXT: The last turnpike authority to bite the dust was Massachusetts which was officially folded into the Highway Division of a new state department of transportation Nov 1, 2009. Scandals surrounding the Turnpike's management of the $14b untolled Big Dig project seemed to be the major factor in MTA's demise.

Indiana had a Toll Road Commission until 1981 when the Indiana Toll Road was turned over to the Indiana DOT - but toll operations were retained as a separate division. Howveer since mid-2006 the ITR has been operated by a Cintra-Macquarie concession, a kind of privatization.

Florida's Turnpike was once a completely separate entity, Florida State Turnpike Authority, 1957 to 1969. It became the Turnpike District of the state DOT when the department was created in 1969. In 2002 the District was reconstituted as Florida's Turnpike Enterprise and remains a separate entity with its own staff under an executive director but within the state DOT.

New Hampshire has long had a similar arrangement with a Bureau of Turnpikes and staff reporting to a Bureau administrator within the state DOT.

Delaware Turnpike and the DE-1 tollroad are both operated by Delaware DOT, thoroughly integrated into the department.

We count ten fully independent state turnpikes remaining: Maine, New York (State Thruway Authority), New Jersey, Maryland (Transportation Authority), West Virginia (Parkways), Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois (Tollway), Kansas, Oklahoma.

Texas had a Turnpike Authority back in the 1960s and later a Turnpike Division within the DOT, but toll authorities in that state have mostly been hived off to metro areas such as North Texas (Dallas, Ft Worth), Harris County (Houston), and Central Texas (Austin) etc. Similarly in California the major authorities are Bay Area (BATA) and Orange County's TCA.  Virginia has many separate toll authorities. Florida has big metro area public toll authorities in Miami, Orlando and Tampa, as well as the Turnpike Enterprise.

The US' largest toll authority by revenue is a creation of public authority entrepreneur Robert Moses, once called Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, now a division of the New York area Metropolitan Transportation Authority, mostly into trains and buses.

Other large public toll authorities are bi-state - operating bridges and tunnels over waterways that mark the boundaries between states - across rivers like the Hudson (PANYN) and Delaware (NJ-DE, NJ-PA). They are generally created by legislation of two states and have equal representation from each.

Also there are binational public toll authorities that operate bridges across the Detroit and Niagara rivers (Michigan, NY and Ontario) and the Rio Grande (Texas, Mexico.)

COMMENT: we don't understand how NCDOT can claim NCTA remains an ongoing entity if all its managers report to separate NCDOT officers rather than to a turnpike head.

Also skepticism is warranted about claims of economies within a state DOT as opposed to a toll authority.

Bigger often equates not with savings but with being more convoluted, more bureaucratic and having larger overhead expenses. We'd be surprised if promised economies pan out.

Running a road for a toll is a business. It is very different from running roads with annual budgetary appropriations from the legislature. We think in general they should be kept separate.

A lot of the motivation to take over state turnpikes appears to be simply a power and money grab. With tax revenues difficult to raise, tolls are seen as a new source of funds. Of course the trend could lead to more tolling - editor.



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