RALEIGH, NC (AP) State senators wanted to restructure the state Department of Transportation, using the budget to eliminate a key position. Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett, however, beat them to it by shifting offices within the department.
Tippett sent a memo to employees May 10 to announce a department reorganization less than a week after the Senate approved its budget, which contained the department shifts.
In his memo, Tippett said the change would allow close coordination between project development and highway design teams.
“It’s all about improved project delivery,” he said. “It’s about improving communication and efficiency in the department.”
The reorganization means two key branches under the deputy secretary of environmental, planning and local government affairs would be reassigned to other executives in the department.
The one big difference between the Tippett and Senate plans is that Roger Sheats, the deputy secretary, has a job in Tippett’s reorganization. The Senate budget bill eliminates Sheats’ position, but Tippett keeps him on board.
Engineers who design highway and bridge projects with an eye to minimizing the environmental impact will report to the state highway administrator. The branch that schedules and oversees highway projects will now report to the DOT’s chief financial officer.
Sheats will retain oversight research and long-term planning functions.
Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, who sponsored the budget provision, has said that communities complained that Sheats was needlessly holding up transportation projects.
Jenkins said Tippett’s changes satisfy him, “They accomplish what we were trying to accomplish.”
Tippett had been considering a reorganization since early this year, said department spokeswoman Ashley Memory.
Environmental interests raised the possibility that the changes could mean the opposite of what they intended.
“This could send us back to a time when [there was] true gridlock in the road construction program,” said Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill. “What they’ve done is shot the messenger. The real issue is dealing with federal regulations, and those aren’t going away.”