Tuesday News: Road Worriers

STORMS AND LAWSUITS HAVE DRAINED NC DOT'S OPERATING CAPABILITIES: A draft of the STIP released last winter already proposed delays to a dozen highway projects in the Triangle, including the conversion of Capital Boulevard into a freeway between Raleigh and Wake Forest. At the time, NCDOT officials cited several reasons for the changes, including rising prices for materials and labor and faulty estimates that didn’t accurately reflect the cost of buying land in urban areas like the Triangle. Since then, NCDOT’s financial picture has gotten worse. The department has spent nearly $300 million in the last year on cleanup and repairs following storms, including Hurricane Florence, which hit just two years after Hurricane Matthew. Meanwhile, NCDOT has spent more than $300 million settling lawsuits related to the Map Act, a law the state used to reserve land for future roads without actually buying it. The state Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional, and NCDOT says the cost to settle individual lawsuits could top $1 billion.

HURRICANE PREP INCLUDES MORE SHELTERS AND RESCUE BOATS: While Dorian is not expected at this point to bring the massive flooding that Florence brought last year, officials say lessons learned from Florence and Matthew have led to changes in how the state is preparing for such natural disasters. One big difference this year is that the state has added 46 new swift water boats. The crews who will use them are already trained and in place for search-and-rescue efforts if needed throughout the eastern part of the state. Another change made after last year's storms include adding more shelters in more places and having them open earlier. The massive scale of the damage left by Florence quickly overwhelmed many local shelters. Cooper said plans for shelters are being finalized, including a 100-bed medical support shelter for medically fragile evacuees. Additional shelters inland are preparing for evacuees.

NEW FOREST SERVICE RULES SHUT OUT PUBLIC COMMENTS: One proposed change would alter the way the Forest Service gathers public comments about proposed actions or projects. Ironically, a public comment period still applies to the proposed changes themselves. “This rule takes the site-specific input out of forest management and takes it behind closed doors,” said Sam Evans, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Public input has been really important to protecting our national forests and frequently improves forest projects.” According to a “questions and answers” document created by the Forest Service, the proposed rule change would enable the responsible official, such as a district ranger, to “right-size” public engagement to the needs of each project. The proposed rules also include new and revised “categorical exclusions.” CEs are a list of activities that agencies have determined do not have significant environmental impact and therefore do not require additional environmental analysis.

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS TO TARGET TRUMP OVER HUSH-MONEY PAYMENTS: House Democrats plan to make President Trump’s alleged involvement in a 2016 scheme to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with him a major investigative focus this fall, picking up where federal prosecutors left off in a case legal experts say could have led to additional indictments. The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold hearings and call witnesses involved in hush-money payments to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels as soon as October, according to people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. Democrats say they believe there is already enough evidence to name Trump as a co-conspirator in the episode that resulted in his former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty to two campaign finance charges.

TRUMP GOLF-TWEETS 122 TIMES OVER THE WEEKEND, MOSTLY ABOUT DORIAN: Starting with his first weekend tweet at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Trump’s Dorian-related tweets were delivered with the speed of a hailstorm. With his reality-show approach to the presidency, Mr. Trump has a habit of weighing in on the day’s most-covered news stories with his own running commentary. As Dorian approached, Mr. Trump switched into town-crier mode, updating the public on what he had learned — or, what he thought he’d learned — from government officials as Dorian threatened the coast of the state of Florida, where he has owned property for decades. “A Category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve even heard the term, other than I know it’s there. That’s the ultimate.” Curiously, Mr. Trump has claimed before that neither he nor weather experts had ever heard of or experienced a Category 5. He was speaking specifically about Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, both in September 2017, and both classified as Category 5. “Although it might seem like a harmless curiosity or blind spot, Trump’s self-professed ignorance of Category 5 monsters could slow the government’s response to such disasters,” an editor, Andrew Freedman, wrote, “or contribute to confusion at the highest levels of government as well as among people in harm’s way.”



Worried about these Congressional races

NC03 is more vulnerable to storm damage than NC09, but the race for NC09 is considerably closer, and even small disruptions could make a difference in the outcome.