The N.C. Department of Transportation is ready to move forward with widening Booker Dairy Road and connecting it to Ava Gardner Avenue. But the news is making Smithfield anxious.
The project would make the road four lanes in front of Smithfield-Selma High School and Neuse Charter School. And in connecting Booker Dairy to Avenue Gardner Avenue, the project would open to development land behind Wal-Mart and Belk.
Smithfield leaders, both on the council and in the business community, have long embraced the project, just like they embraced the extension of Booker Dairy from Buffalo Road to U.S. 70 Business in West Smithfield.
But a presentation this past week made council members uneasy. It was the first time they had seen what they called complicated plans, and the presentation left them wondering how much money Smithfield would have to spend on water, sewer and sidewalks.
“This is the first time this council’s been given this plan,” Councilman Travis Scott said.
Councilman Perry Harris was equally concerned. “We’ve certainly been told this was going to happen, and we really haven’t been extremely well informed about exactly what this road entails,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve really been involved in the process of some of this.”
Mayor Andy Moore spoke for the council when he said he was unhappy with the project maps. “Let’s see if we can’t get some better drawings of this,” he told town planner Paul Embler.
Harris said the project could come at a considerable cost to Smithfield if it runs water and sewer lines along the new road behind Belk and Wal-Mart. And if the town wants sidewalks along the road, that will mean even more money.
“We need to be involved in this process,” Harris said. “We’ve had virtually no conversations whatsoever about where we’re going to get (the money).”
The council asked Councilman Scott to be its liaison with town staff and the DOT.
Last year, Gov. Pat McCrory placed the Booker Dairy Road work on a short list of transportation projects he wants done in rural North Carolina. It’s now slated for construction in 2018.
That could be too soon if Smithfield’s not prepared.
“Now all of a sudden, it’s moving fast,” Mayor Andy Moore said.
“We’ve got to deal with the money situation,” Harris added. “We’ve got a lot to do in a very short period of time.”
Harris noted that the DOT plans don’t include sidewalks. “There’s a lot of children that walk this area,” he said. “ It’s something we’ve got to consider.”
Harris wanted to know why the DOT plans showed the road going through homes when vacant land was available.
Embler said much in the area had changed since the DOT first drafted plans for the project nearly 20 years ago. “A long time ago,” he said, shrugging.
But the DOT has started contacting affected property owners, Embler added.
What the town needs is more information, Moore said. “We need to understand this road,” he said, “how it’s going to be designed, what it will mean for development in that area.
“We are going to have to invest a large amount of money, and I would like for us to be able to capitalize off a new road ... from a development standpoint so we can increase our tax base, so we can hopefully recoup some of the money we’re going to have to put in.”
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett