November 18, 2014

NCDOT says privatizing some road work will
improve service on Hatteras, Ocracoke

BY CATHERINE KOZAK


An effort to look at ways to privatize some state road maintenance and improvements was announced this month by the state Department of Transportation just a week after an invitation for bids was published seeking contractors to do maintenance work on Highway 12 on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

But the two are not directly related, said Sterling Baker, NCDOT division maintenance engineer.

Baker said that private contractors would be able to combine a number of tasks in one contract and help replace manpower on the islands lost from budget tightening.

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years,” he said.

The DOT workers who have been posted on each island – two in Buxton, two on Ocracoke -  will remain, Baker said.  And much of the maintenance work is already contracted out, he said.

“Truthfully, we don’t envision a whole lot of impact to the workforce,” he said.

What the new contracts are intended to do, he said, is to improve service on the southern Outer Banks, as well as allow the 16 workers posted in Manteo to be more available for road jobs in the rest of their area, which includes Currituck County.

“It’s not financially or logistically viable for us to bring them in from Manteo to do the work,” Baker said about the island projects.

Road projects put out for bid on Oct. 28 included grass mowing, pothole repair, tree control, vegetation management, debris removal, litter pickup, drainage ditch maintenance, installation and repair of culverts, road sweeping, traffic control and sign repair.

When possible, DOT has been doing the work in-house, except for mowing, Baker said. But because the DOT crews have been spread so thin, he added, the agency has already had to contract out for some bigger projects with various on-call contractors throughout the state. The smaller jobs, however, were not put out to bid because of the costs. 
What the new contracts would do, Baker said, is combine the jobs into a single contract, one for each island.

“Our main goal is to see responsive turn-around . . . and quicker,” he said. “We still will retain all the emergency response, all the sand-moving.”

Bids are due by Nov. 19. The contracts are expected to be awarded about two weeks later and to be performed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015.

Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners and a Hatteras resident, said that he had initially heard that all the maintenance work would be privatized, which left him concerned that the DOT staff on the islands would lose their jobs. But he has since learned that whatever private contracting is needed will not mean loss of the local crew.

“I’m very happy with DOT services that the guys give in the area,” he said. “They work hard. They work nights. They work weekends.”

But Burrus said that he is still skeptical about the degree of privatization that DOT is planning, and whether it will result in cost savings.  And even if it does, he said, it could be at the expense of poor service, as has happened elsewhere with garbage pickup.

“Once you start, where do you stop? There’s no half way in or half way out,” he said. “I don’t see it. I’m going to keep pressure on them to find out what’s going on.”  

Meanwhile, the state Board of Transportation this month approved a draft study that recommended charging more in fees for some services and cutting costs by using private sponsorships for highway beautification projects and rest areas. It also said that the state should consider creating legislation that would allow business signs on highways to generate more revenue, and to have the program managed by a private entity.

The study recommendations are due to the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee and the Fiscal Research Division by Dec.1.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Click here to read an NCDOT study on fees, sponsorship, and privatization.  



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