Savage Road – the great debate

Published 8:06 am Monday, June 7, 2010

GATESVILLE – A dusty, dangerous road in Gates County provided the basis for a lively debate here last week at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners.

On hand at the meeting were Sterling Baker, Gretchen Byrum and Jerry Jennings of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. They presented DOT’s Secondary Roads Construction Program to the board.

“Last year we had the allocation, but did not have the cash in the bank to pay for the funding of projects,” Baker told the board, as well as a standing room only crowd in attendance. “Now we are presenting to you the 2009-10 allocation of funding and the 2010-11 anticipated allocation.”

Between those two allocations, a total of $680,327.10 can be used to improve secondary roads in Gates County.

At the top of the list, under the category of paving unpaved roads, was Savage Road (SR 1325 off NC 32 between Sunbury and Corapeake) – a project calling for grading, draining, base work and paving a 1.7 mile section. Baker said right-of-way has become available there and that the total cost of the project was $625,000, of which DOT had allocated partial funding $300,000.

“If you look at the alternative list, it shows funding the additional $325,000 (of the Savage Road project) if funds become available or another project drops off the list,” Baker said.

Baker noted that if right-of-way is not available, the project moves to a “hold” list and is no longer a part of the DOT’s priority list. If right-of-way does become available, it moves up the list, especially if it’s an unpaved road.

A question was posed from a man in the audience on the status of the right-of-way on Savage Road and what is the estimated time of the paving of that road.

Byrum said Savage Road was on the proposed list, adding that DOT now has the right-of-way for 1.7 miles of that road up to the curve.

“We’re proposing partial funding for that road, but we have planned to finish the projects that have been backlogged before we attempt that, unless the commissioners want to push that project (up the list),” Baker said.

“That project has been on the list for 15 years and I know that because I’ve been to these meetings for over 15 years,” stated an unidentified woman in the audience. “We were told 15 years ago that Savage Road was a priority. It is a connecting road between two major roads.”

“All roads are on a priority list until such time that we investigate the right-of-way,” Baker responded. “If we can’t get the right-of-way, it goes to the hold list and stays there until right-of-way is available.”

“So why isn’t it on a priority list now,” the woman asked.

“It’s moved to the top; we’re saying we’re going to fund it this year, but we won’t have the spending authority,” Baker replied.

The same audience member who initiated the debate asked Baker if he was aware that Savage Road was unsafe, according to an e-mail sent to him from DOT. He said school buses use that road, adding that he felt sure Gates County school officials as well as the parents of the children riding on those buses were not aware of the unsafe conditions. He further referenced a curve in that road of greater than 90 degrees.

“We wanted to straighten the curve out, but we still can’t get the right-of-way,” Byrum said.

“There’s no way we can address that without the right-of-way,” Baker confirmed.

“Even if it’s an unsafe road, with children on it in school buses,” the man inquired. “You can’t address that? I can address that; I have a postage stamp; I can send a lot of letters; I’m retired Navy and I don’t have nothing to do but write letters.”

“We’re not in a public hearing on this; I think he (Baker) understands your point and so do we (commissioners),” Board Chairman Graham Twine interjected. “Last year when we had this same discussion, the (Savage Road) right-of-way wasn’t available.”

“It’s available now for the mileage (1.7) that we presented,” Byrum said. “It’s from Union Branch Road back towards the curve, but it stops short of the curve where we don’t have the right-of-way.”

“By law, we cannot use secondary road improvement funds to purchase right-of-way; it has to be donated,” Baker noted. “I’m not saying I agree with that, but it’s North Carolina General Statute.”

The man said there was no signage on the road warning of the bad curve, adding that it was a very dangerous curve to maneuver, especially to those traveling at night. He also referenced the speed limit on Savage Road is 55 mph, creating an extremely dust-laden neighborhood in which he lived.

Another man in the audience said he lived on the unpaved portion of Savage Road and that a vehicle ran into his yard, struck one of his parked vehicles, and kept on going.

“I’ll get our traffic section to look at placing those signs,” Baker said.

In addressing other road improvement needs in the county, Baker noted that DOT had previously funded $1,025,000 for paving and strengthening a 2.6 mile stretch of Reynoldson Road (SR 1212) from US 13 to the Virginia state line. The total cost of that project is $1,350,000 and DOT is proposing, in its current allocation of funds, to complete that project by adding $325,000.

Baker’s presentation also included a listing of paved road improvement alternative projects – widening and strengthening both Sandy Cross Road (SR 1413; 4.3 miles from NC 32 to SR 1002) and Willeyton Road (SR 1304; 2.3 miles from SR 1303 to SR 1300). Those two projects are priced at a combined $570,000.

As far as previously funded projects, Baker said the work orders were set-up for those secondary road improvements…“but we didn’t have the spending authority, the cash in the bank, for the last two years to do this work,” he said.

Listed among those projects were pavement work on Spivey Road (2.05 miles; $295,000); Bank Street (0.6 miles; $90,000); Acorn Hill Road (5.3 miles; $375,000); and Sandy Cross Road (4.3 miles; $600,000). There was also a listing of $25,000 to pave the parking lot at the new Sunbury Volunteer Fire Department.

The bottom line for all secondary road improvement projects in the county, plus money needed for various pipe replacements and the funds needed for surveys, right-of-way allocations and other DOT costs, totals $4.24 million.

“Our intent is to finish what’s backlogged first and then finish the projects we’re proposing in this year’s program, except for Reynoldson Road…that’s going to be our top priority because of the condition (of that road) and the traffic there,” Baker noted.

Baker said the contract for the work on Reynoldson Road would be awarded sometimes this summer. That contract will call for the complete milling of the road (digging up the old asphalt) and replacing it with a higher grade pavement due to the heavy truck traffic on that road.

The board voted to approve the DOT’s Secondary Roads Construction Program as presented.