August 6, 2013
A conversation with the Outer Banks’ new
representative to the state Board of Transportation
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
Fearing is one of those Dare County natives who willingly inserts
himself in local issues, some would say as an activist citizen, some
would say as a burr. A persistent advocate for good government,
he is a familiar figure at board meetings, often armed with reams of
notes and stacks of documents.
But he didn’t ask for his latest role serving on one of the state’s most powerful boards.
a member of an old Manteo family, was appointed last spring by Gov. Pat
McCrory to represent Division 1 on the North Carolina Board of
“When the governor called, I explained two
things to him,” Fearing said in a recent interview at his Manteo
office. “I told him I was an Independent, but my family had been
Second, he said, he told McCrory that he
had not attended college and had no alliance to any team – or for that
matter, the rough and tumble of sports.
“I had to tell him I’m
not into the sport of politics,” he said. “I’m going to be who I am . .
. This is no political launch for me.”
Fearing, 58, succeeds
Matt Wood of Camden on the 19-member panel. Previous to Wood, the post
was held by Stan White, a Nags Head Democrat, who resigned to fill
state Sen. Marc Basnight’s seat, and R.V. Owens, a Manteo businessman.
The Board of Transportation, which meets monthly in Raleigh, oversees
14 divisions statewide and works with the state Department of
Transportation in prioritizing transportation projects.
1 covers the vast, largely poor and rural northeast corner of the
state, encompassing 14 counties: Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck,
Dare, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Northampton, Pasquotank,
Perquimans, Tyrrell, and Washington.
Since Fearing, president
of Outer Banks Insurance Agency, accepted the post in April, he said he
has been working overtime to get up to speed on the issues, the budget
and the division’s projects and needs. Nearly three shelves of a
bookcase in his office are already lined with large notebooks filled
with DOT information.
He grabs one notebook and quickly flips
through page after page. That is just lists of the meaning of acronyms
and department terminology, he said.
But he’s able to
deftly rattle off the DOT basics: 12,000 staff and a budget that
had been “north of $12 billion for a long time” and was about to
change. And for Division 1-- there are 5,162 road miles; 575 bridges,
including eight of the state’s 10 longest bridges; and “right now, at
this second” about $500 million in construction projects underway.
the next 10 years, about 1.3 million people are expected to move to
North Carolina, one of the fastest growing states in the Union. Fearing
cited a $1.2 million deficit in the transportation budget. Nearly 60
percent of the revenue comes from the fuel tax he said, and the
efficiency of vehicles has made the tax a declining source.
new transportation plan, known as the Strategic Mobility Formula,
prioritizes projects based on criteria that rank factors such as travel
time savings, traffic congestion and safety, according to the NCDOT
website. It will be fully implemented in 2015.
are divided into state, regional and division levels, with those
bearing statewide importance receiving 40 percent of revenue, totaling
$6 billion over 10 years. Regional projects will receive 30 percent,
equaling $4.5 billion, weighted by population; and division projects
will receive 30 percent, or $4.5 billion divided equally between the 14
The regions will have subsets of a Rural Planning
Organization or a Metropolitan Planning Organization, known in
bureaucrat-speak as RPO and MPO.
The selection of projects
will be data-driven and include input from local division engineers and
local leaders, and it’s supposed to be immune to politics. Although the
plan has garnered broad bi-partisan support, Fearing said, it’s
complicated to figure out the end result.
Even a top DOT
numbers guy -- a man Fearing compared to Dave Clawson, Dare County’s
award winning finance director -- could not tell him what the specific
effect of the plan would be on Division 1.
“Is there going to
be an effect? Yes,” Fearing said. “But that effect is going to be
across the entire state. We really won’t know until 2015.”
1 will be combined with adjacent Division 4 to create Region A, which
will have input from RPOs known as Albemarle, Mid-East, and Peanut.
The Board is expected to approve recommendations on project criteria and weights this month.
perception that Division 1 will get pennies to Raleigh’s dollars
because of lingering resentment for once all-powerful state Sen. Marc
Basnight, a Manteo Democrat -- or because it is rural and lacks
political muscle -- is groundless, Fearing said.
If the board
has a chip on its shoulder against Basnight’s territory, Fearing said
he has yet to see it. He said he was allowed to give a presentation
about the division that exceeded his allotted time, and everyone has
been welcoming and accommodating towards him.
“They were kind
to me,” he said. “They let me go on. They let me tell the story from
the inlet shoaling to Highway 64 to (U.S.) 158. They indulged me for
15- to 18-minutes.”
Fearing said he has no interest in any politics that may be associated with the board.
“Roads and bridges are not for Democrats or Republicans,” he said.
1, he said, is about the size of New Jersey and is home to about
250,000 people. Despite how spread out and, compared to the rest of the
state, how sparsely populated it is, the board has not been dismissive
of the importance of projects such as the Mid-Currituck Bridge.
“I see support,” he said, referring to bridge between Corolla and the Currituck mainland.
“I see awareness amongst our board. I’ve been assured all the way to our Secretary that it will compete in our state.”
Fearing is also wearing his advocate’s hat for the Bonner Bridge, a project he called critical to Hatteras Island.
“We’re going to build the bridge,” he said. “The department is committed to build the bridge.”
seems to have advocacy in his bones. His father M. Keith Fearing Jr.
had served in the state House of Representatives, helping to pass the
legislation that created the “Beach Plan” coastal insurance program.
a young man, Malcolm Fearing had quit school to start a fishing and
hunting guide business, a decision he regrets, Although he eventually
did graduate, the experience made him appreciate the value of
education, inspiring him to help other “knuckleheads like me” get
A photograph on his wall shows him at age 18
with long blonde hair, when he was working on a sailboat. In another,
his great-uncle, state Sen. Bradford Fearing, is standing next to Paul
Green, the playwright who penned the “The Lost Colony.”
Trophy animals – Fearing is a big bow hunter –fill almost an entire wall.
new schools were built in Dare County, he spent nearly nine years
advocating for renovation of the schools “from one end of the county to
another,” he said.
Fearing, who is married and has three
children and four grandchildren, has also contributed his opinion,
often for prolonged periods, about numerous issues having to do with
the county, the town of Manteo, and Roanoke Island Festival Park, among
He has a thinly veiled, but well-known, rivalry with
former town Mayor John Wilson, a member of another old Manteo family.
At the public meetings he attends, he speaks in a polite, but direct
Much of his business in recent years has been
repurposing old buildings – moving oceanfront cottages or abandoned
houses, fixing them up and selling them.
“When people ask me what I do, I tell them I do maintenance work,” he said.
jokes that he likes the saying “I’d rather be lucky than good,” but he
is taking his role with the DOT seriously. He’s up at 4:30 a.m.
answering e-mails from people.
He is trying not to pay
attention to the political division in the state and doing what he can
to help people. He said he plans to serve just one term.
majority of the people are caught in the middle,” he said. “When people
ask me something, I’m going to try to address their concerns.
“It doesn’t mean I can get anything done. But I’m going to try.”