Fearing: No surprise if not reappointed to BOT
By Jon Hawley
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Malcolm Fearing said he doesn't know if Gov. Roy Cooper will replace him on the N.C. Department of Transportation Board of Directors.
But it wouldn't surprise him if he did, Fearing says.
Cooper's predecessor, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, appointed Fearing in April 2013 as the Board of Transportation member serving Division 1, which covers 14 counties including Pasquotank.
Fearing said he's had no conversations with Cooper's team about what happens when he finishes his term in April. However, he said new administrations like to bring in their own people. Whether he'll reappointed or not, he said he's focused on serving for now.
“I'm going to continue to do my work until I'm told not to,” Fearing said this week.
He declined to say if he wants to be reappointed, saying he’s leaving that decision to the new governor. If he’s not reappointed, Fearing said he’ll continue managing his real estate and other businesses in Dare County.
Reflecting on his time as one of 19 members of the state transportation board, Fearing said DOT has advanced several key transportation projects for Division 1 in the last four years. He cited the Mid-Currituck Bridge, the replacement span for Hertford's historic S-Bridge, and new bridges at Hatteras Island as examples.
Fearing also said the next transportation board will have to continue many Department of Transportation projects left over from the current board. That's just the nature of DOT, he said, because road projects typically take seven years or more to construct. Key projects remaining in the region include work on parts of U.S. Highway 158 and U.S. Highway 17, he said, as well as efforts to move forward Interstate 87. The future interstate will require numerous highway improvements, including local sections of U.S. 17.
Fearing's appointment to the transportation board wasn't without controversy. Area lawmakers Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Bob Steinburg, openly opposed Fearing’s appointment to the board. Steinburg also unsuccessfully called for McCrory to remove him in 2013, arguing Fearing got the job through connections, not merit. McCrory stood by his appointment.
Despite lawmakers’ initial opposition, Fearing said it’s been a pleasure to work with them. Asked if Steinburg’s views of his appointment had changed, Fearing said he hoped so, and considered him a friend now.
In the first days of his administration, Cooper has already recruited officials who worked under the state's last Democratic governor, Bev Purdue. Among them is Jim Trogdon, DOT’s former chief operating officer, as the agency’s new secretary. Will Cooper bring back Fearing's predecessor, Matt Wood, as well?
“Who knows,” Wood said Tuesday.
A Camden County businessman and farmer, Wood preceded Fearing as the area’s representative on the transportation board, serving for roughly two years. Wood said this week he's had no contact with the governor's office. If Cooper asked him to serve again, Wood said he’d consider doing so.
However, he said speculation about transportation board members is a “little premature” because Cooper is still trying to assemble his cabinet and other top positions. Transportation board members are likely “way down the list,” he said.
Wood also said he believes the transportation board has done fairly well for Division 1 in recent years by advancing some important projects. However, he said the road funding formula adopted under McCrory has favored urban areas over rural ones. That's an issue for state lawmakers to address more than transporation board members, he added.