RALEIGH —Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced the retirement of North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Secretary Eric Boyette on Sept. 6.
Cooper has chosen Joseph R. “Joey” Hopkins, the current NCDOT chief operating officer, to replace Boyette on Oct. 1.
“Secretary Boyette has served North Carolina with distinction during my term as Governor, first as Secretary of the Department of Information Technology and now as Secretary of Transportation, and I’m deeply grateful for his hard work and commitment to the people of our state,” Cooper said in a statement. “I’m confident that Joey Hopkins will continue this outstanding work as Secretary of the Department of Transportation when he steps into this new role.”
Hopkins has worked at NCDOT for more than 30 years in a variety of capacities, including deputy chief engineer, division engineer, deputy division engineer, division maintenance engineer and division operations engineer, all in Division 5.
Boyette has served in state government for the past 27 years.
“I’ve spent nearly my entire career working alongside people who strive each day to make our state a better place, and being a part of such a dedicated team is what made this such a difficult decision,” Boyette said in an email statement to North State Journal. “I’m proud of the work the NCDOT team has accomplished under my leadership, including strengthening our finances, improving project delivery and building stronger relationships with communities across our state.
“Thank you to Gov. Cooper for the opportunity, and to all my staff, colleagues and partners who have made this experience so fulfilling. I have worked with Joey for many years, especially in our current leadership roles, and I know the Department is in the most capable hands as I begin a new chapter.”
Boyette has received several awards, such as the Golden Gov: State Executive of the Year and GovTech’s Top 25 Doers (2019), Dreamers & Drivers. He was also named Public Sector CIO of the Year by NC Tech (2019) and the Triangle Business Journal (2016). He also received the Old North State Award in 2017.
Cooper first appointed Boyette as secretary of the Department of Information Technology in April 2017, and he was moved to NCDOT secretary in early 2020 after the sudden departure of Secretary Jim Trogdon on Feb. 4. 2020.
Under Trogdon’s tenure, the NCDOT saw a series of financial missteps, including a 2020 state audit that reported overspending of $742 million by the agency. The overspending and budget issues resulted in construction contracts being cut by $2 billion that year accompanied by rolling employee furloughs.
The 2020 audit was followed by a legislative hearing at which State Auditor Beth Wood testified that the NCDOT’s cash mismanagement was “absolutely” a factor in the agency’s overspending.
A second audit that same year by Wood’s office found improper salary raises and adjustments totaling around $39 million.
Additionally, the NCDOT faced criticism over the purchase of some Ringling Bros. circus railcars in 2017 for $383.000.
The railcars were supposed to be refurbished but instead sat untouched on tracks in Nash County. While sitting on those tracks, four cars had to be scrapped after they caught fire in an incident suspected by the Nash County Sheriff’s Office to be arson.
In 2020, the NDCOT took a loss on the purchase of $327,949 after two of the remaining cars sold for a total of $26,301 and the other three sold for a combined $28,750.
Trogdon and the agency took heat over the loss, with critics noting the NCDOT’s money issues of spending $2 billion beyond its $7 billion revenue stream and being dangerously close to hitting its bottom limit for cash reserves.
Since Boyette took over, the NCDOT has received a positive audit report related to its spending. According to the audit produced this past spring, NCDOT spending for fiscal year 2022 was approximately $6.86 billion, but in actuality it spent $6.34 billion.
More good news for the NCDOT’s financial management came at the end of December 2022 with the early repayment of N.C. State Highway Trust Fund loans totaling more than $1 billion.
The loans were repaid two years early according to State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who praised the repayment as a “turnaround” from the NCDOT’s fiscal mismanagement issues.