DOT to Listen to Paving Project Concerns
Local and state officials will meet with downtown Southern Pines merchants Thursday to discuss the timing of a planned repaving project on Broad Street.
"It's not a formal public hearing," said Tim Johnson, division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT). "It's going to be very informal. We want to separate fact from fiction first. We want people to bring their ideas, then we'll talk about the pros and cons of each idea."
NCDOT has awarded a $1 million contract to S.T. Wooten Corp., of Wilson, to repave Broad Street from Morganton Road to Vermont Avenue and four other roads in Moore County. The work can begin at any time and must be completed by the end of November.
Merchants are adamant that the Broad Street portion of the contract be postponed until after the holiday shopping season.
"We're unanimously opposed to the timing of the project," said Tony Grausso, co-owner of Seagrove Candle Co. "They know that. I really do hope that DOT is coming into the meeting as conversationalists and not lecturers. If they're really going to listen to us, hopefully they'll put the project off until next year."
Grausso noted that merchants are coming off the two worst months of the year for sales - July and August - and are eagerly anticipating a boost this fall.
"We've weathered hard times in a down economy, so revenue is even more important to us," Grausso said. "We've told them we don't want the repaving to happen in the fall because of the impact on our businesses."
Merchants are mainly concerned that road construction will limit access to businesses, create loud noises and foul the air when the asphalt is laid down. As a result, they want to know project details as soon as possible.
The informal meeting, which was arranged by NCDOT, will be held at 6 p.m. at the Douglass Community Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southern Pines.
Johnson said it was the first such meeting called in his 25 years with NCDOT.
"But there are certain situations where it doesn't hurt to sit down with folks and talk about things," he said. "We want to sit down with the business owners because they seem to have a lot of concerns. I think we'll get something fruitful out of it.
"The goal before we leave is for everyone to have a clear understanding of what we intend to do."
Town Manager Reagan Parsons, who plans to attend the meeting, hopes that all affected merchants and other concerned residents will be there as well "so we can have an open discussion" with NCDOT officials.
"My only hope is that we come out with a plan from DOT that addresses the concerns of the downtown merchants," Parsons said Monday.
Grausso said a strong turnout by merchants would show "unity and concensus."
"We still haven't been asked formally by DOT which would be a better time of year to pave," he said. "We've been put in a defensive mode."
Reade Dawson, general manager of the asphalt division for S.T. Wooten, has said the company could either pave Broad Street first - most likely in mid- to late October - or delay it until after March 15.
NCDOT usually does not allow repaving projects between Dec. 15 and March 15 because of winter temperatures.
The construction timetable is typically laid out at the preconstruction conference, which has not been scheduled.
Dawson has also said that S.T. Wooten would comply with any changes implemented by NCDOT.
Johnson said one option would be for the town to take over maintenance of Broad Street between Morganton and Vermont.
"They would have to petition DOT, but it's their option," he said. "The process takes six to eight months to complete."
Parsons said town personnel had investigated the option.
"We have roughly approximated that the 'taking over' of Broad Street from DOT would result in the neighborhood of $2,100 per year in additional Powell Bill revenues flowing to the town," he wrote in an email Tuesday. "Beyond day-to-day-type items and maintenance, the real perspective is that the current contract to repave Broad Street is in the neighborhood of $350,000. Even if it was done only once every 20 years, the math speaks for itself."
Parsons said he can "see the advantage" of local control.
"But coming up with the funding would be a disadvantage at this point in time," he said.
Johnson said he looks forward to the give-and-take at the meeting Thursday.
"You won't please everybody. That's not going to happen," he said. "But we're going to do the best we can, given the circumstances."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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