Town officials began their biggest political road trip in memory a little after 5 a.m. on a Wednesday, piling in together for the drive up to Washington.
Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne and Town Manager Adam Mitchell had been planning the trip for months so they could lobby federal leaders for more funding for road projects. They brought along Charlie Adcock and Blake Massengill, two other town commissioners, on the Sept. 9-10 trip.
They met with a half-dozen U.S. congressmen as well federal transportation leaders, including a private meeting between Byrne and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
“We had nine meetings in under 24 hours, all of which were productive,” Mitchell wrote in an email.
A week later, Byrne also said he thinks the trip was worth it – even though no one will know for sure until the federal government votes on its budget this fall.
“We’ve got transportation issues here,” Byrne said. “They’re big, and they’re real. We need help with those, and I think we made our best case.”
The group met with Sen. Richard Burr, Rep. George Holding, Rep. David Price, Rep. David Rouzer and Gregory Nadeau, the head of the Federal Highway Administration.
They also met with Gov. Pat McCrory’s director of federal relations as well as staff members for Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. G.K. Butterfield.
Judd Parkway grant
The town’s main request is funding for a TIGER grant, to help complete the construction of Judd Parkway. The final part of the loop, the northwest section, will extend from N.C. 55 to Academy Street.
It will cost about $13 million, but the TIGER grant could pay for 50 to 60 percent of the project. The rest of the cost, grant or no grant, will be paid for by property tax increases if voters pass the town’s bond referendum this November.
This November, Fuquay-Varina voters will decide whether to fund a $26 million bond referendum for Judd Parkway, improvements to two busy Main Street intersections and an expansion of the town’s water and sewer grid.
The bond could require a property tax increase as high as 6.75 cents on Fuquay-Varina’s current 38.5 cents per $100 rate, which is the second-lowest rate in Wake County. The TIGER grant, officials say, could put that increase more in the range of 4 or 5 cents, or less.
Byrne said everyone they met promised to support the town’s request.
“I haven’t got a check in my hand yet, though,” Byrne said. “But I feel like at this point, our staff has done a very good job.”
He will know in October, at the earliest, if the effort panned out. That’s when the federal government is supposed to vote on next year’s budget. Byrne and Mitchell both said those discussions could become drag out, however.
If budget talks are delayed, voters in Fuquay-Varina won’t know the status of the grant before voting on the bond referendum.
Officials, however, are cautiously optimistic.
“I am confident we have taken the appropriate steps to position us in the most favorable way” Mitchell said. “Now we will have to wait and see what the outcome will be.”
In addition to the TIGER grant, Byrne said the local leaders brought up the need for work on U.S. 401, a federal highway.
“It’s the main route as you move up from Fayetteville and Fort Bragg into our area,” Byrne said. “And we have a lot of people who live here and commute there, or up to Raleigh.”
There’s also a lot of traffic in Fuquay-Varina from people who don’t live in town. Byrne said a recent express bus, which stops only stops at two park-and-ride lots in Fuquay-Varina and downtown Raleigh, is meant to take some of them, as well as local drivers, off the roads.
But new bus routes alone won’t solve the traffic issues caused by growth in and around town, he said.
“This is a regional thing,” Byrne said. “About 30 percent of the citizens in Harnett County work in Raleigh or the Research Triangle. And that means they’re coming through Fuquay-Varina.”
In the meantime, Byrne said, local leaders continue to pursue other grants to help with Fuquay-Varina’s crowded roads. They frequently send requests to CAMPO, a group that gives out transportation funding in Wake County, as well as to the state.
Byrne said it’s the state’s responsibility to maintain and upgrade most of Fuquay-Varina’s major roads anyway, so he was glad that the General Assembly recently gave Fuquay-Varina $500,000 to help out with roadwork.
“Now, DOT ought to be doing these roads themselves,” Byrne said. “So it’s not a lot of money, but we’re at least not doing it all by ourselves.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran