Looking over the list of the six new members of the Board of Transportation appointed by Governor Bev Perdue, two aspects are striking. First, all but one have given significant sums of money to her campaigns in the last ten years. Second, none appear to be transportation professionals. Rather, the six are a mix of lawyers, real estate and developer types and whales. At first glance at least, they look the starting five plus one for Team Sprawl and not the most likely bunch to promote efficient transportation policies and public transportation.
Who are they? There’s Hugh Overholt, a New Bern attorney and retired general who is a key player in state government/military relations. Ralph H. Womble is an ex-President of Hanes and a key booster for revitalizing downtown Winston-Salem. John Collett is a Charlotte developer specializing in large big box retail malls. Wanda J. Proffitt is an Appalachian realtor. Leigh Harvey McNairy of Kinston is a Harvey, the family owning one of North Carolina’s largest privately-held companies, Harvey Enterprises and Affiliates. That company has interests ranging from farming and agricultural production supplies to real estate, financial institutions and insurance. The family is one of UNC’s largest donors. McNairy’s father was instrumental in the establishment of the Global TransPark near Kinston, perhaps best known for its empty fields and very long runway.
The only non-donor is Durham’s Chuck Watts, an in-house lawyer at North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance and chair of the Durham ABC board.
None of the six chosen, as far as I can tell, has a proven transportation expertise track record. But many have transportation interests of the ‘more roads, please’ variety. The appointments are a wake-up call after the promising appointment of Gene Conti as Secretary. While that appointment may mean the delivery of projects will become more efficient and the more pernicious, self serving and obvious cases of pet projects get shelved, the six chosen for the Board do not inspire confidence that the direction of state transportation policy will significantly change. Only time will tell.