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From the News and Observer: “Chuck Williamson was mad, already, about Interstate 40 repairs expected to suck up $20 million that taxpayers planned to spend for other Triangle road work. He was mad about the prospect of waiting another 18 months, if we’re lucky, to get the I-40 paving job unbotched. Now, after a personal encounter with a bouncing, baseball-size chunk of bad concrete, he’s even madder.” (News and Observer; 12/12/06)

According to the newspaper, Mr. Williamson added, “It just outrages me that no one has been held accountable.”

It’s easy to understand how he feels. The I-40 paving snafu – the concrete is breaking apart just a year after it was laid – raises a serious question about the Department of Transportation’s competence.

A legislative oversight committee asked DOT Secretary Lyndo Tippett the same question. He vacillated like a weather vane. He promised to provide a full explanation and said he’d name-names. But then a DOT spokesman “backtracked” and said the names – of the people Mr. Williamson wants to hold accountable – would remain secret. Last Friday, after saying yes, then no, Secretary Tippett said yes, again. He issued a six page explanation, named-names, saying, “I am confident that the changes we are implementing will strengthen our program, provide better project delivery and insight, and ensure that such a problem does not occur again.” (News and Observer; 12/16/06).

But DOT Board member Kenneth Spaulding didn’t buy that. He said, “Quite frankly, I would have thought that these priorities were already in place.”

We’ve had plenty of scandals in State government but most of them have been about campaign contributions, lobbyists and conflicts of interest. This one is different. The issue is not chicanery, it’s competence. Last July, to celebrate the Fourth, DOT officials took a state ferry out of service to sail legislators and VIPs’ around Beaufort Harbor (with a mariachi band, lobster and shrimp hors d’oeuvres) to watch the tall ships – at taxpayer’s expense. That raised a question about the DOT’s judgment. The I-40 paving snafu raises that question to a higher level.

In the Triangle we have severe road needs. So far, the reason we’ve been given is the lack of money. But with the I-40 paving snafu you also have to wonder if part of the problem may not be incompetence.

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