Highway Planners: Residents Mixed on 'Ribbons-Strings' Game
“Strings and Ribbons,” the newest transportation game in Moore County, has received mixed reviews from participants.
Moore County residents participated in the game at various locations across Moore County last week.
Hosted by the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Moore County Transportation Committee, the Moore County Planning and Community Development De-partment and the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization, the public input exercises, called charrettes, were designed to gather input from residents on proposed transportation projects.
“I think it’s been good to see how interactive people are with each other,” said Kathy Liles, planning director in Aberdeen and charrette facilitator. “When people are standing up and leaning over the table, you know they are into it. I’m curious to see how many versions of the map we are going to get.”
The projects include a proposed U.S. 1 bypass, improvements to N.C. 24/27 and the N.C. 211 bypass/western connector. They will be included in a Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) being developed for the county that will reflect the priorities of residents and elected officials.
“People were involved,” said Linda Covington. “It was interesting and intriguing, like paper-dolling only better.”
Others weren’t as easily swayed.
“I certainly had reservations that it was going to be a charade rather than a charrette,” Marsha Bryant said. “Whether it is going to mean anything, or if it is just going to be a pacification game, I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Bryant said she didn’t have issues playing the game, but said she heard that others did.
“We heard other people say their facilitators were combative,” she said.
Donna Jameson said the concept of playing a game was insulting to her.
“I think we are a long way from any voices being heard in any substantial way,” she said.
Naomi Johnson, of Carthage, said the workshops seemed “like an exercise in futility.”
“I’ve been around a long time and I’ve seen the government make you feel like you’re doing something positive, but it’s already planned,” Johnson said.
Aberdeen Mayor Betsy Mofield was more blunt: “This whole project is unnecessary. It’s a waste of taxpayer money.”
During the sessions — which were held in Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen, Carthage, Cameron and West End — residents sat at tables in groups of eight. Each individual was given $400 million in money to fund projects. Each table had different maps of the areas with the roads in question. Each table was required to work together and spend all their money.
Individuals each had five stickers that they placed on the maps to identify areas of priority that they wanted to protect. They were also given price sheets to tell the cost of roads, bridges, overpasses and other items, a calculator, tally sheets for purchases, comment sheets and a handout outlining transportation issues in the area.
To complete the game, each table was asked to spend all its money on as many projects as possible. The one catch was that they had to come to a consensus on all projects by the end of the game.
That wasn’t always easy.
“I was probably the lone dissenter at my table,” said Tom Campbell, “but I didn’t want to wreck the whole idea of the table.”
Several residents said they appreciated the chance to meet people from other parts of the county and listen to their concerns.
Upon completion, each map was signed by participants and photographed and uploaded to a website.
“You are not required to draw a line on the map to play the game, but why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to let people know where you want change to happen?” said Jumetta G. Posey, CEO of Neighborhood Solutions in Winston-Salem. Her firm, which has conducted Strings and Ribbons across the country, facilitated the charrettes.
Throughout the process those running the charrettes stressed that residents were not setting an alignment for any road, but rather were presenting options for future study.
“We are only drawing the line to show them what we want to study,” said Frances Bisby, of the NCDOT. “It’s not about alignment.”
Bisby praised the turnout and participation.
“We are thrilled with the enthusiasm Moore County has shown and the interest you have taken in being part of the decisions that are going to affect the Moore County transportation system for the next 25 to 30 years,” she said.
In fact, turnout was so heavy that people were turned away from nearly every venue, which was upsetting to some.
“I feel disgruntled because I came to participate and I can’t get in, so my voice will not be heard,” said Katie Walsh, of Southern Pines.
Walsh, who is president of the Southern Pines Garden Club, said her goal was to preserve the native plants in the 4,200-acre nature preserve owned by the Walthour-Moss Foundation.
“It’s a magnificent treasure trove that we need to protect for our children and their children. We want it to be enjoyed for generations,” Walsh said.
Stephen Later, a Pinehurst attorney and vice chairman of the Foundation, attended every charrette and was thrilled with the weeklong turnout.
“It’s obvious that there are a lot of highly motivated people who value the integrity of their communities, and believe that miles of steel and concrete don’t necessarily represent the highest values in planning,” Later said.
Later added that it was important for Moore County residents to prioritize their wishes.
“We needed to let DOT know there are other values besides shaving a few seconds off a transit time from point to point,” he said.
Bisby said the input from residents will help DOT look at the issues and areas of concern that are important to Moore County and then use tax dollars efficiently and effectively to study what’s important to residents.
“I’m really excited because people have been engaged. We’ll have a grab-bag of solutions from Moore County citizens,” she said.
According to NCDOT, the need for the projects is to ease congestion along N.C. 2, N.C. 5, U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501.
The most vocal opposition has come from Horse Country, because a bypass east of U.S. 1 would likely go through the Foundation, which is home to large stands of longleaf pines as well as numerous endangered plants and wildlife.
“I know there is a lot of anger from what’s happened in the past, but this is a new day, a new process and a new planning document,” Posey said. “Even though you are upset about what happened in the past, I’m going to ask you to look at the problems of today and talk about what the solutions could be from this day forward for the next 25 years.”
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