Carr Wrecks

Richard Carr, president of a firm that wants to build the $350 million South Mountain Toll Road, has extensive experience in "public-private partnerships." Unfortunately, most of those experiences have been bad.

The first was a mysterious letter that made its way to the Douglas City Council from Quartzsite in October 1992. The letter was signed by "Mrs. Robert L. Balke," whom no one in Quartzsite had heard of. But everyone in Quartzsite knows Rex Byrd, the man who threw Carr out of town. Byrd, who is named in Carr's lawsuit against Quartzsite, would not comment for this story. But he did admit that he drove to Phoenix and paid "about $250" for copies of Carr's bankruptcy filing.

Enclosed with the Balke letter, addressed to the Douglas City Council, were papers from Carr's bankruptcy filing.

The Douglas council halted negotiations with Carr, who was forced to stand before the council and defend his personal and business affairs. Carr told the council that when he purchased Los Angeles-based Project Control, Inc., in 1987, he was forced to personally guarantee the company's debts. He said a series of legal entanglements ensued when auditors discovered the seller owed several hundred thousand dollars in unpaid taxes. He added that he opted to declare bankruptcy to protect his home and wages.

"It was the only thing I could do to survive," he said at the time.
Carr produced a letter of credit from an Omaha bank, as well as a letter of support from DLR, according to reports in the Daily Dispatch.

Glen Gimbut, Apache Junction's city attorney, wrote to Douglas officials that Carr was a visionary capable of "intriguing different approaches to problems."

Mollified, the council voted to resume negotiations with Carr.
Two months later, two inmates in the Cochise County Jail near Bisbee managed to loosen one of the 9-by-16-inch concrete blocks in the exterior wall of their cell, knock it free and escape. Both were quickly recaptured.

Officials soon determined that the escape wouldn't have been possible if the contractor who built the jail in 1985 had followed specifications and installed reinforcing metal bars in the cores of the hollow concrete blocks.

The company which oversaw the jail's construction: Phoenix-based Reese-Carr. The Douglas Daily Dispatch jumped on the story, quoting Carr as saying that it was "premature to know . . . who the hell was responsible."

Regardless, the shoddily built jail was a scandal. The Douglas City Council had heard enough and broke off negotiations with Carr.

In 1995, Richard Lloyd Carr turned his interest to toll roads.
Before submitting his South Mountain proposal to ADOT last year, Carr had pitched at least four other toll roads--in Nevada, Washington, South Carolina and Minnesota. The South Carolina and Minnesota roads might actually get built.

Carr told ADOT last year that he was "currently managing development of" the other two.

But both of those projects had fizzled well before Carr submitted his proposal to ADOT. In Nevada, transportation officials pulled the plug after deciding that a toll road near Carson City was not needed.

In Washington state, however, residents who saw the toll road as a form of double taxation, and who thought they were being kept in the dark, helped sink a proposal to widen a 10.5-mile stretch of Highway 522 near Seattle.

At a meeting with road officials in February 1995, more than 100 toll-road opponents presented petitions containing 15,000 signatures. According to a Seattle Times account of the meeting, the only person who spoke in favor of the project was Richard Carr.

"Carr told stories of his childhood in South Dakota, when private enterprise built infrastructure," the Times reported.

"In recent decades, the government has funded and directed highway projects. Now, it's time again for private industry to take over, he said.

"'We all became addicted to the milk of the breast of government,' Carr said.

"The response from the public was a volley of disbelieving giggles and none-too-friendly suggestions to 'go back to Arizona.'"

Carr's most promising toll-road project is the so-called Southern Connector, near Greenville, South Carolina. Running through hilly, wooded terrain between two interstates south of Greenville (population 200,000), the road has been touted as an economic panacea.

All of the area's major players--legislators, transportation officials, developers and the local newspaper, the Gannett-owned Greenville News--endorse the project and seem intent on downplaying anything that may reflect badly on it.

When news of Interwest's Apache Junction fiasco made its way to South Carolina, a group of Southern Connector opponents asked the state attorney general to look into Interwest's record. The AG said he saw no need for an investigation, a judgment the Greenville News applauded in an editorial.

"While the distant [Apache Junction] lawsuits are a matter of legitimate interest to state transportation officials," the News opined, "the dissatisfaction they represent isn't material to the management firm's [Interwest's] conduct in South Carolina." The editorial went on to say that the project was backed by "reputable local business leaders."

Many of those supporting the Southern Connector are, no doubt, reputable. But one of Interwest's biggest partners in the deal only recently emerged from a scandal that rocked the Greenville area--ironically, it was chronicled by the News, which published more than 80 stories about it stretching back more than six years.

Thrift Brothers Construction, which has signed on to build the Southern Connector, lost both its state and federal contractor's licenses in 1991 after investigators determined that the company's principals had given payoffs and gifts to state highway officials. After a lengthy legal battle, the company has since had its licenses restored.

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