Political Pavement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 6, 2008

AHOSKIE – It was noted at a previous meeting of the Citizens Against the Ahoskie Bypass (CAAB) that politics will not play a role in an effort to move money from one highway project to another.

That may prove as wishful thinking.

In a CAAB meeting held Tuesday night at Bearfield Primary School, a crowd estimated in excess of 250 listened as four local politicians weighed in on the issue of shifting the Department of Transportation’s focus from the proposed US 13 bypass to widening NC 11 to four lanes.

In regards to their comments, three appeared to favor NC 11 over US 13 while the fourth, remaining neutral on the issue, reminded those in attendance that if DOT pulls the plug on the bypass, it may shift the funds earmarked for that job completely out of the area.

“We would lose it all,” said 4th District North Carolina Senator Ed Jones who represents all of the Roanoke-Chowan region as well as Halifax County. “The money for this project is in a trust fund designated for a US highway. If we can’t come to an agreement, there is the possibility that DOT could shift the bypass money to another US highway project.”

Senator Jones said the ongoing US 158 project (widening that road from the Murfreesboro bypass to Winton) could possibly receive the Ahoskie bypass funds or the money could shift to another part of the state on another US highway improvement project.

“I’d like to see (DOT) District I keep this money since it was designated for our highway district,” he said. “But I’m not going to be a referee. I will not choose between the Ahoskie bypass and improving NC 11. What’s needed is for the commissioners in Bertie and Hertford counties to get together and agree what’s best.”

Jones’ counterpart in the NC House of Representatives, Annie Mobley of Ahoskie, said all she wanted was what’s best for the 5th District (Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Perquimans counties).

“My intention is to carry forth the wishes of the people,” Mobley said while speaking via a telephone connection from her Raleigh office. “From the calls and letters I’ve received, 98 percent are in opposition to the Ahoskie bypass.”

Mobley went on to say those calls and letters are coming from citizens in both Bertie and Hertford counties.

“Again, I must stress that all I want is the decision to be what’s best for my District,” she continued. “I feel what is being proposed is not in the best interest of my District.”

Hertford County Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer said he and his colleagues support NC 11 improvements.

“We recognize that NC 11 is the best route and is what’s best for Hertford County,” Farmer said. “We also recognize that NC 11 benefits the western portion of Bertie County and even eastern Northampton County. If looking at this as a regional concept, NC 11 is the better choice overall.”

Farmer said the commissioners have approved a resolution in support of NC 11 and directed Hertford County Manager Loria Williams to forward that resolution to NC DOT officials, requesting them to move the four-laning of NC 11 ahead of US 13.

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn said she and town council members were in support of NC 11.

“I feel for those who possibly may lose their homes and farms if the bypass does come, but the town’s real concern is how the Ahoskie bypass will negatively impact our future from an economic standpoint,” Blackburn said.

“Don’t do this to us,” Blackburn pleaded, addressing the two DOT representatives in the audience. “This is not a good plan. We have to find a different way and the Ahoskie Town Council thinks that way is NC 11.”