by Lincoln Sward
Friday, November 14th, the Ram Road stomp. Around 100 people consisting of concerned citizens, teachers, professors, students of UNC, etc. showed up to show their support of a noble cause. First and foremost I applaud the efforts of the several organizations involved with the protest SEAC, Transportation Reformers, and others that had supportive parts either in or around the protest. Why were they there? It was because of misuse of political power and tax payer"s money to the tune of an estimated one million dollars. Ram Road, one of the bastard sons of the DOT. When I found out about this blatant disrespect for North Carolina"s taxpayers I was fairly upset. The story has been told before, but goes as follows.
Last year when the State Improvement Projects list came out, Ram Road was on the list. Where did it come from? No one seemed to know. This road (more like a driveway, go check it out) was to connect a parking lot in front of the Dean Dome to Manning Dr. and only Rams Club members could drive down this road. The university was only mildly supportive and the town had not requested it. Questions were asked and soon Ram Road became "an issue." Since then it had received plenty of press coverage and SEAC and Transportation Reforms started protests. I learned of Ram Road from the press releases and talking to friends. Thus started my perilous journey into the mire of the DOT and my protest action. It didn"t take long before I had found out many things just as distasteful if not down right vulgar about the DOT and BOT. It started of course through press releases and talking to friends about the DOT and Ram Road. Stan Goff from Democracy South discussed the Ram Road situation and told me a little about the Pinehurst Bypass since I wanted my horizons broadened on the DOT situation.
He told me to talk to Jesse Wimberly of the Piedmont Peace Project which is a group directly involved with the protest of the Pinehurst Bypass. From what he told me, for four years now some residents of Moore County in the region of Pinehurst, about 50 miles south of Chapel Hill, have protested the Pinehurst Bypass. Commissioners of the Board and several elitists in Pinehurst have pushed for this road. Their reasoning is that with an influx of tourists in the Pinehurst area and the area having a large number of golf courses, the road will alleviate traffic and the tourists will be able to make their tee-off times. Basically this bypass will do nothing for traffic and will take out 30 homes and 10 local businesses in rural areas of Pinehurst. Those farms not wiped out will more than likely have to be sold, due to increases in property value for these families to survive. Some of the local farms have been passed down from generation to generation and a sole source of family income.
There are positive things that have arisen from the protest. With support the citizens have stopped the DOT from buying out the farms and houses in 1998 and pushed the project back on the TIP as a future need. Still, is making a tee-off time by building a estimated 50 million dollar road that will not alleviate traffic worth doing damage to the community? Certainly not!!!
Mr. Goff also referred me to the websites of the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. I believe both have done a good job of covering DOT corruption. One story that caught my eye was the Eno Drive project. Larry Holt, who is involved with the No-build Alternative and Eno River Association was very helpful. He offered another instance of the DOT raising its ugly head. The northwest leg of Eno Drive is something of a controversy. If it is built, its path over the Eno River and close proximity to Eno State Park could cause damage to the ecosystem. The DOT is trying to change environmental laws to allow them to build the road through Eno State Park. If that wasn"t enough, they are also trying to push into Duke Forest and Orange County. Elected officials have said "No!" to this, but the DOT still pushes the idea. If the environmental issues were not enough to upset me social issues, pushed me to blind rage. It is the same as in Pinehurst, people losing their homes. These outrages must stop!!!!
In all three cases I found the DOT to be a deaf ear or more like a horse with blinders on. They spend about 1 billion dollars of taxpayer"s money each year, but we have relatively little say so in what is done with the money. There aren"t many nice things to say about the DOT. As far as I can make of it, the DOT seems to be a money-making machine for corporations and "fat cats." It turns its back to the working class. Developers use the DOT to promote so-called "economic growth" and what is really happening is that they are making a quick buck off the people of North Carolina. Look at the scandal-soiled banner waved by the DOT. First there are the resignations of Carroll Edwards and Odell Williamson. Second, there was Charlie Grady"s misuse of his board influence to lobby state DOT staff members to pay a higher price in a right-of-way purchase so he could profit from it. Third, there is James Cartrette who didn"t get his seat on the board even though he gave $14,450 to Governor Hunt"s campaign and another $10,000 to the Democratic Party. Because he didn"t get his seat he wants his money back, you would think that Mr. Cartrette would help in the fight against the DOT.
Where does it end? I hope right here! By broadening my horizons I hope I have helped you as well. You see, in my research of the DOT I learned that Ram Road wasn"t the only issue and I"m sure it won"t be the last unless we do something. I haven"t even touched the tip of the iceberg. I"m sure there are things that have not been exposed as of yet. I learned that while we are more privileged in our protest action against Ram Road, others are not. Citizens in other situations have to protest because the situation directly affects their lives.
Ram Road did not affect a majority of Chapel Hill residents directly. I was included in that small portion affected since I don"t have a car right now. The buses don"t run at 4:00 a.m., so I ride my bike at early morning hours in 22 degree weather if not worse. So now I have been sick for 3 weeks and not really getting any better.
I think we can use Ram Road, as something to fuel the flames so that we won"t forget about the repulsive DOT actions when it is no longer fashionable in the media. Come on, there has been a fatal blow to the DOT! This could be a time for real changes and real reform! Not the cosmetic cover-ups offered by ethical guidelines and watchdog agencies offered by Governor Hunt. We need to take the power back so that our tax dollars are spent wisely. Information and people are out there. They can point you in the right direction. Tell your local political figures that you will strongly oppose the DOT"s repeated abuses of power. Exercise your First Amendment rights to help yourself, your family, your loved ones, and your future!
|Lincoln Sward is a resident of Chapel Hill.|
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