Smithfield: Opinion

Roads can’t keep pace with development

In my way of thinking, Cleveland Road near N.C. 42 in the Cleveland community should not be heavily congested during the morning and evening commutes. It seems to me that when the state opened Interstate 40 from Raleigh to Wilmington, it would have immediately begun planning and setting aside money for the widening of Cleveland Road from N.C. 50 to at least Barber Mill Road.

In Clayton, I see N.C. 42 East in much the same way. When Becky Flowers announced plans for Flowers Plantation to welcome all of those newcomers delivered by I-40, the state would have made widening N.C. 42 East an immediate priority.

Invariably, though I don’t know why, developers see a road’s impact better than transportation leaders. In 1989, the state completed I-40 in Johnston County. In less than a decade, the Cleveland community had grown enough to help elect a political newcomer, Republican Cookie Pope, to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. And yet almost 30 years after I-40 opened in Johnston, Cleveland Road remains a two-lane road. Ditto for N.C. 42, which should really be a four-lane road from N.C. 50 in the Cleveland community to Buffalo Road east of Clayton.

But maybe I’m being too hard on state transportation leaders. Maybe they knew the Cleveland and Clayton communities would enjoy a population boom because of I-40. And maybe they were well aware in the early 1990s that roads in Cleveland and Clayton would become congested. But perhaps other road-building and road-maintenance needs across North Carolina were greater. Personally, for example, I like the U.S. 70 bypass of Clayton because it allows me to, well, bypass the still heavily traveled U.S. 70 Business in Clayton proper.

It’s true that North Carolina lawmakers are not inclined to raise the state’s gasoline tax to raise more money for road building and maintenance, and they’re not big fans of toll roads outside of decidedly metropolitan areas like the Triangle and Charlotte. (For the record, as long as I still pay a state gas tax when I fill up, I won’t support toll roads either.)

Just as important, no driver I know is clamoring for higher gasoline taxes or toll roads. In Clayton recently, folks were vocal in their opposition to a high-density subdivision because it would increase traffic on the meager roads in their neighborhood. But I doubt many of the opponents are calling their state lawmakers asking to pay more in taxes. I wouldn’t be either.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers to my road questions. Maybe the state does need more money if it’s to meet road needs in Johnston and North Carolina’s other 99 counties. Or maybe the state needs to alter its funding priorities. I don’t know that anyone stuck in traffic on I-40 cares bike and pedestrian projects.

And what about cities, towns and counties? They aren’t in the road-building business, but should they be? I doubt that Johnston County Commissioners want to be in the road-building business; they’re too busy building schools. And I’m pretty sure Clayton leaders don’t want to stop building parks and greenways in favor of avenues.

What I do know is that neither Johnston County nor its towns should say no to growth out of transportation worries. That would be unfair to landowners, who have every right to sell their properties to developers wanting to build houses, shopping centers, what have you.

That might not sound right to some Clayton residents wary of a high-density subdivision next to their large-lot homes. But those folks need to remember that if not for an earlier Clayton council saying yes to a subdivision request from a developer, they wouldn’t have the homes they live in now. And just as likely then as now, someone complained about the increased traffic their subdivision would bring to the neighborhood.