Cooper's DOT secretary choice not sitting well with I-77 toll lane opponents

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has announced two more cabinet appointments as he builds his team to lead the state over the next four years.

He named Jim Trogdon as North Carolina Department of Transportation secretary, a high-profile role because of the controversy surrounding the I-77 toll lanes between Mooresville and Charlotte.

Trogdon served as the chief operating officer for the DOT before his retirement in 2013 and as director of strategic transportation planning for the North Carolina General Assembly.

He helped to drive several major initiatives during his time at the state DOT, which included reshaping the department’s funding formula to a more data-driven approach to create more jobs and make better use of existing funds during the 2013 legislative session.

“Jim Trogdon knows North Carolina’s transportation successes and challenges better than anyone, and he will bring technical know-how and smart solutions to the job,” Cooper said. “Our state’s growing population and business climate need good roads and smart mass transit, and he will lead the way.”

Trogdon's most recent role was serving as national transportation director for SAS.

Ties to tolls

After stepping down from NCDOT in 2013, Trogdon joined Atkins as vice president of regional business development and sales for the U. S. mid-Atlantic region.

Atkins is an engineering firm that works with P3 projects- public and private partnerships to build things like toll lanes.

Atkins has close ties with Cintra, the group has worked on the Port Mann Bridge/Highway in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Texas State Highway 130 (SH 130) in Austin, Texas.

SH 130 Concession Company, a subsidiary of Cintra, recently declared bankruptcy on its toll lane project, a project similar to the I-77 Express Lanes in Lake Norman.

While serving with Atkins, Trogdon penned an article called "To Toll or Not To Toll."

"Tolling appears superior to all other options," Trogdon argues. "Degraded trip reliability, congestion and lost productivity appear more costly than tolls. In short, tolling proved beneficial to those who value their time."

Trogdon formerly served on the Board of Directors for the Alliance of Toll Interoperability. The North Carolina Toll Authority is a member of ATI.

Trogden has spoken at conferences held by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. The IBTTA calls itself an "alliance of toll operators and associated industries." He also previously served on the IBTTA's board of directors.

Widen I-77 responds

Trogdon has a history with anti-toll group Widen I-77.

In 2013 when the toll battle was beginning, Trogdon and Widen I-77 leader Kurt Naas exchanged a series of emails.

Naas emailed Trogdon about comments Trogdon made at a public information session in Huntersville. In an email back to Naas, Trogdon discussed his support of toll lanes on all NC interstates.

"My perspective on why express lanes should be, how we add future capacity to all our interstates is founded on a strategic view of population growth and the reality of declining revenue over the next two to three decades with the status quo approach," he wrote.

Naas told Channel 9 he is disappointed with Cooper's selection but hopes Trogdon's opinion on the I-77 project has evolved since 2013.

"We hope that he's had a chance to look at this contract, see how it doesn't work for the residents of this area and reconsider his position," Naas said.

Naas said he looks forward to working with Trogdon. He's encouraging toll opponents to continue to put pressure on Governor Cooper to cancel the contract.

Cooper's team responds

In response to questions from Eyewitness News Reporter Joe Bruno, a spokesperson for Cooper said Trogdon will serve at the pleasure of the governor.

The spokesperson said as Attorney General, Cooper repeatedly said he would not have signed the contract.

When asked if Cooper's position on I-77 tolls has changed, the spokesperson responded, "No."

Other appointments

Cooper also selected Michael Regan to lead the Department of Environmental Quality.

Regan served as southeast regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund and national director of the energy efficiency southeast climate and energy policy from 2008-2016. He also worked with the EPA on air quality for the Clinton and Bush administrations from 1998-2008.

“Michael Regan has the environmental background to know that protecting state resources is vital to our state’s health and economic climate,” Cooper said.

Cooper on Tuesday also installed experienced managers to temporarily supervise state cabinet agencies. The appointees will oversee state departments while the process of appointing cabinet secretaries is completed.

Cooper asked the following people to serve as caretaker supervisors of the following departments:

  • Britt Cobb, Department of Administration
  • George Sherrill, Department of Commerce
  • Bill Ross, Department of Environmental Quality
  • Dempsey Benton, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Kevin Cherry, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Linda Hayes, Department of Public Safety
  • Ron Penny, Department of Revenue
  • Mike Holder, Department of Transportation

“We’re hitting the ground running by making sure veteran managers are in place across state agencies,” Cooper said. “I’m grateful these experienced public servants have agreed to serve temporarily.”

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