Most Wake County roads are paved

STAFF WRITERSeptember 11, 2010 

— When Leon Powell moved to Holly Springs in 1959, he had to beat back the vines and branches to get to his small plot along Lassiter Road.

Lassiter Road was dirt. Most roads in Wake County were dirt at the time.

"It was just woods up in here," Powell said. "The road was cut, but it was overgrown."

Through the decades, as the Triangle's population expanded, pavement stretched down these county roads much faster and farther than the vines ever did.

Today, more than 97 percent of Wake County's roads are paved. Half of Lassiter Road is paved.

The rest will be paved in the coming months to accommodate renters at a planned luxury apartment complex with a swimming pool, dog park and 136 parking spaces.

"That used to be our Lover's Lane," Powell said, recalling summer evenings when he'd see more cars parked at the wood's edge than passing by on the road.

When Lassiter, a state-maintained road, is paved, it will leave only a couple of gravel roads in Holly Springs.

Other Wake towns are experiencing a similar extinction.

Morrisville maintains only one gravel road - Johnnie Robertson Street, a short connector that skirts a family cemetery between Chapel Hill Road and Cotton Drive.

Frances Robertson, widow of Johnnie Robertson, the road's namesake and longtime mayor of Morrisville, remembers when these houses didn't have street numbers and these streets didn't have names.

"This whole little community was dirt roads," she said. "I mean everything."

The first paved road in the state, U.S. 70, passed right in front of Robertson's house. It's now called N.C. 54.

Today, blacktop is hard to escape no matter which town you're driving in.

Push to pave

Most unpaved roads are maintained by the state. But even those roads are dwindling.

"There was a big push to pave all unpaved roads beginning in 1989, when the Highway Trust Fund came around," said Delbert Roddenberry, secondary roads program manager at the N.C. Department of Transportation.

There were 12,000 miles of unpaved roads statewide in 1989, and now there are fewer than 5,000 miles of unpaved roads, Roddenberry said. Most of those unpaved roads are in the western part of the state.

And days might be numbered for those dusty holdouts. Most of them are on a state-maintained paving priority list.

Their pecking order is determined by things such as the number of homes on the road, the amount of traffic and whether the road is near a church, school or hospital.

Every four years, the DOT rides those unpaved roads to check things out.

"A lot of people don't want their road paved," Roddenberry said. "Some don't want to donate the extra right of way space for a paved road, and others say they simply chose to live on a rural road and want it to stay that way."

Feels like the country

And that's just the way it is for another family back on Lassiter Road in Holly Springs who rent the home closest to the dirt bend - the "Lover's Lane" of Leon Powell's youth.

That stretch is now littered with trash and discarded tires, but the dirt road still provides a respite for Jannette and John Fuller's four children, who walk it almost every day to go fishing at a nearby pond, to pick up a few groceries at Harris Teeter, or just to kick up some dust.

The Fullers wish there were more roads like it around town. The family doesn't plan to stick around long enough to see Lassiter paved - in part because the town has developed so quickly.

"I keep moving further and further out of town, but nothing feels much like the country anymore," said John Fuller, a mechanic who lived in Durham and Cary before moving to Lassiter Road four months ago.

So the Fullers are moving back to Boone, where they lived for 13 years before moving to the Triangle in 2006.

"There are so many dirt roads and trails we can escape to in the mountains," Jannette Fuller said. "We've missed that so much."

As for Powell, he's happy to see the improvements that will come to Lassiter.

With the pavement will come sidewalks and gutters - things he has long wanted.

But he'll still hold a fondness for that dusty bend just a few blocks down the hill from his house. or 919-460-2608

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