The vigilance of an informed public is vital to the success of a democratic society. It requires an open and responsive government and a media to keep watch over the duly elected leadership.
Our national leaders and media could learn a thing or two from how things work in these parts. I would like to talk today about what just happened and what I hope we will all see in the near future.
I want to talk today about the debate over changes to Midland Road.
It is a lesson in civic responsibility in its purest form and an example of government responding to the concerns of the governed and media to help build a bridge between the two.
Over the years, the state and local governments have tallied data about local traffic accidents on Midland Road — the main corridor between Clark Street in Southern Pines and the Traffic Circle in Pinehurst. While the accidents were no more frequent than on similar roads, the injuries were more severe.
A consulting firm was hired and ultimately put forward a plan to increase traffic safety. But it would have a profound and detrimental effect on the appearance of our local gem of a “double road.” They were looking only at numbers, when they were in dire need of appreciating the beauty of both towns.
The report concluded that safety would be enhanced by the removal of over 300 majestic pines along the route.
Public hearings were held by the mayors and town councils of both towns. One citizen, Gene Maples, took an interest and read the entire report and was outraged. Using the report’s calculations, Maples wrapped a ribbon around every tree that would not survive a consultant-driven purge. There were a lot of ribbons!
One friend told me she thought it wouldn’t be so bad until she realized the ribbons were the lost trees and not those preserved.
Mr. Maples testified numerous times before both councils and lobbied heavily against the plan as it was written. There were other factors that needed to be considered: more than 70 median crossings, disparate and high speed limits, semi trucks using the biway as a shortcut to the newly enhanced N.C. 211.
In response to public outcry, the N.C. Department of Transportation and the consulting firm went back to the drawing board and have now put forward a more reasonable plan.
Lower the speed limit and enforce it, especially against interstate trucking; remove a percentage of the trees too close to the road that cause a visual danger to and from oncoming traffic; and finally, restrict the numerous crossovers to a limited and well-designed few.
Throw in a roundabout or two and a traffic light along the way, and Gene Maples, the mayors and town councils have hopefully saved the town from “progress.”
This is what in a democratic society, functioning in a collective way, is known as compromise.
Many believe compromise to be a sign of weakness — when, in fact, it is a celebration of strength. Without compromise, we can know only chaos among the masses or despotic leadership by the few.
The polarization and demonization of political debate will be the ruin of our country from Washington down to our wonderful town councils.
Especially at the local level, we all share the most common concerns about a quality of life that is more common than different. We may disagree on development of street signs, but we can all agree on basic service and safety. We want good schools, safe streets …
In a bucolic destination like our towns, we need to preserve the beauty to protect our most valuable industry of golf and tourism. The revised plan does that.
As a matter of history, the trees were not part of the original plan for Midland Road. They replaced a trolley car that delivered golfers from the train station and boarding houses of Southern Pines to the golf destination of Pinehurst.
The trees Maples and others (including me) hope to preserve were an accidental surprise to greatly enhance the beauty of the Sandhills charm. To drive from one town to the other is a ride through time with the Olmsteds, Tuftses and Donald Ross himself.
Much is made of Magnolia Lane, the quaint road leading to the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf course. Midland Road is our approach to both fabulous towns. Let’s give thanks to our elected officials and vigilant citizens for defending our past and protecting our future.