Gritty road awaits paving

Longtime promise in Durham hasn't been fulfilled, but that might change soon

Staff WriterJuly 6, 2006 

— Julius Harrell bought his home on Southview Road in 1972 with a father's wholly ordinary desire to teach his 7-year-old son to ride a bike in that neighborhood.

The public road was gravel then, but Harrell was told by state transportation officials that it eventually would be paved.

It never happened. Now, a generation later, Harrell has new motivation in his quest for asphalt: two grandsons, ages 6 and 8, and bicycles in need of pedaling.

"At the rate it's going, I may have to wait and see my great-grandson ride out there," he said recently.

After 34 years of waiting, Harrell might finally get the strip of blacktop he has wanted for so long. The state Department of Transportation has allocated money for the project, and paving is expected to begin once some environmental permits are secured and right-of-way land is obtained from residents in order to widen the road, said Tasha Johnson, a DOT engineer.

"We hope that it will be next summer," she said.

Once it begins, the $290,000 project will take about a month.

Though he regards this as good news, Harrell nonetheless won't turn a cartwheel over Johnson's projection. He has heard too many times that his rural road has been bumped down the priority list for various reasons.

"Between now and next summer, we'll be sitting on pins and needles," said Harrell, 60, who mans a parking attendant booth at N.C. Central University. "I can't go and spend a lot of money improving my property assuming we'll have a paved road."

Off N.C. 98, in the far reaches of eastern Durham County, Southview Road is a 1.1-mile stretch of rocky, jarring, noisy, dusty gravel with a single stretch of asphalt -- maybe 30 feet long -- over a bridge. It is pure country, far from the urban hustle and bustle and untouched by development. Eight families live there, none very close to one another, all with unpaved driveways.

The state's formula to determine paving priority is based on the number of residents, homes and businesses on a street as well as the amount of traffic. There is no commerce on Southview Road, no housing sprawl or generic strip mall.

"Because the number of homes was stable, it never had anything to boost it above other roads," Johnson said. "So it had to wait its turn."

For now, Southview Road is one stretch of 4.3 miles of unpaved county roads the state plans to blacktop this year and next. Harrell expects a paved road to dramatically improve his quality of life. The gravel gets his home dirty, his tires wear out faster than they ought to, and his property value isn't what it should be.

"You can't keep your house clean because of all the dirt and dust," Harrell said. "Instead of painting your house every 15 years, you paint every six or seven years."

Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com.

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