Regular Pilot articles detail discussions of the various elected bodies throughout Moore County. At times, these articles go into mind-numbing detail about a myriad of issues.
Recently, I read a few of these articles and was struck by the importance of some of the items being discussed. The average reader might miss the significance of these issues in the sheer volume of what was being reported.
A example was a recent story on the Aberdeen budget proposals. The town is proposing to use “half of the annual Powell Bill allotment from the state for road resurfacing work.”
During my career, I found that this gas tax distribution was insufficient to adequately maintain roads. To determine what we needed to be doing, we periodically commissioned an independent analysis of our road network. This analysis identified what kind of maintenance needed to be done on each street and its timing.
The result was a year-by-year projected cost for maintenance. We then budgeted Powell bill funds and additional local tax dollars annually to meet this projected cost.
Why is this important? If you do not have a cost analysis of road conditions, you do not know if you are budgeting enough money for road maintenance. If you do not budget enough on an annual basis, you will fall further and further behind, resulting in ever-escalating costs. This is the best way to waste taxpayer money on a massive level.
In Aberdeen’s case, I have been told that while they did a road condition study a few years ago, the study did not include cost projections. So while Aberdeen officials may believe that they are doing enough to keep up with road maintenance, without a cost projection based on detailed analysis, no one actually knows whether this is the case.
Other items of interest in Aberdeen are progressive budgetary efforts. The town is implementing an automated meter reading system. Meter reading is a labor intensive operation which is prone to human error.
Automation not only eliminates labor costs but also increases accuracy. The costs of installing automation are usually what have prevented towns from starting down this path of greater efficiency and effectiveness. Aberdeen has decided to make this upfront investment in order to reap long-term gains.
The town is also looking to the future by considering acquisition of the Aberdeen Elementary campus and extension of a sewer line to serve the new school. The sewer line will allow the town to expand its service area while taking advantage of school funds to pay for a significant portion of the cost of the sewer line. Town acquisition of the old campus will provide facilities that will meet growing recreation needs.
Other concrete examples of items of significance contained within larger stories have been recent articles about the proposed revisions to the design and functioning of Midland Road. Both the Southern Pines and Pinehurst councils have been considering plans developed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, designed to improve the safety of the road.
My impression from the news coverage has been that most local concern has been directed toward saving as many trees as possible, and most NCDOT concern has been with making design changes that maximize safety.
Somewhere along the line, the idea of reducing the speed limit to save more trees entered the discussion. At first a move to reduce the limit to 40 mph seemed to be the focus. By the end of the discussion, that reduction was down to 35 mph.
Unfortunately, anyone thinking that this will ultimately save some trees is probably sadly mistaken. Motorists drive at a speed that they find comfortable given the design of the road on which they are driving. This is a fundamental principle of engineering for street design.
Many of the physical changes to Midland Road will work against speed reductions, as elimination of median cuts will cause motorists to increase their speeds.
The proposed speed reduction plan relies on increased enforcement. However, much of the road section proposed for speed limit reductions is the Highway Patrol’s jurisdiction, not the municipalities’.
How likely is it that enforcing an artificially low speed limit to save trees will become an ongoing and never-ending priority of the Highway Patrol?
And then, if speeds are not reduced adequately to prevent accidents, all it will take is one suit by an accident victim to force the tree removal that this ill-conceived speed limit reduction seeks to avoid.