Student led group collects signatures, meets with officials in hopes of seeing change
Tired of waiting for the problems with New Town Road to be addressed, three Union County teens decided to tackle the problem on their own. Alex Abuaita, Madeleine Fish and Crystal Boland lost a friend in May, when a traffic accident on New Town Road claimed the life of 14-year-old Paulo Pappa. With Cuthbertson High School just down the road, as well as a connecting route to Providence Road, traffic on New Town has grown in recent years, while it remains a country road, with blind curves, no shoulders and pavement issues. To address these concerns, the group created a peition, Facebook page and website, while scheduling meetings with local and state officials.
“This has been an issue for years,” Abuaita said. “The schools have doubled in size, (New Town Road) is unsafe.”
Before moving forward, the three hit the books, studying how road repairs are funded and looking into what it would take to get New Town Road on the list. Then they created a petition, in order to drum up local support.
“We wanted to make sure we had community support,” Abuaita said, adding that before going to state officials, the group wanted to have a significant number of signatures, enough so the project couldn’t be easily dismissed.
Right now, the petition, www.petitionspot.com/petitions/newtown, has 1,014 people signed on, endorsing the idea of repairing the road.
“We don’t have any kind of target for signatures,” group co-creator Crystal Boland said. “Our initial goal was 1,000 and we’ve already passed that.” The group has a meeting scheduled with NCDOT Division 10 engineer Barry Moose next week, Boland added. At that point, they hope to find out how many signatures they need in order to get action started.
The hope, group co-creator Madeleine Fish said, is to stress to Moose and other officials how unsafe the road is, encouraging them to get it on the list of road projects.
Over the past month, the group has held events at places like Brooklyn Pizza in Wesley Chapel, collecting signatures and also donations to go to a scholarship fund in Paulo’s honor. They’re working with Bank of America to set up a nonprofit bank account, where donations can be distributed. The group is also looking at bumper stickers and potentially tee shirts to sell, in order to raise awareness of the traffic problems and generate support.
“We’re basically traveling down country roads with no shoulders and they’re getting more and more dangerous,” Union County commissioner Tracy Kuehler said, adding her support to the group’s petition. Kuehler isn’t alone. Local officials from across Union County endorse the project, saying it’s needed.
“I absolutely support getting that into the long range planning process,” Waxhaw Mayor Daune Gardner said. “It’s wonderful to see people concerned and actively doing something about it. If we had more people in the community willing to step up like this, we would get a lot accomplished.”
Gardner pointed out those improvements for New Town Road were noted two years ago as being needed, in the local transportation plan created by Marvin, Mineral Springs, Waxhaw and Weddington. Despite that recommendation, the project never made it onto the funding list for the region.
An uphill battle?
The problem, regional officials say, is that for New Town to be repaired, another project has to come off the list. The question is, which town is willing to give one up, so that New Town Road can be funded?
Currently, over 300 projects sit on the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization’s regional transportation list. From 2011 to 2035, planners project the region will get $1.42 billion from the state’s equity formula and $1.706 billion from the loop formula. The state’s equity formula breaks counties such as Union into seven divisions. Half of the money distributed to those divisions is based on population. The remaining half is distributed two ways: First, the state calculates the miles of unfinished interstate road in each division, then adds that to a set amount of money given equally to each division. So, $1.7 billion of the region’s $3.1 billion would be spent on 12 projects, including $152 million in Mecklenburg for Independence Boulevard improvements.
NCDOT Division 10 engineer Barry Moose said too many projects found their way in the current five-year Transportation Improvement Plan. Even now under the reduced funding model, Moose said that 70 percent of the projects won’t get be built, meaning that unless one project is removed and New Town added in its place, there’s little chance of seeing funding for the repairs. The regional transportation group is set to vote July 20 on a final version of the five year plan.
“The thing is, if a project is added, another one has to go away, so Union County will have to decide what its priorities are,” MUMPO Secretary Bob Cook said.
Right now, Cook said, the region needs to focus on getting the current list of projects approved, as they face a deadline. If the list isn’t adopted during MUMPO’s July 20 meeting, then the region could risk being out of conformity with the federal government’s air quality standards. Each region has to submit a list of projects showing they’re making progress toward reducing the amount of smog and air pollution created by vehicles. Without that list, the federal government could decide to withhold transportation dollars allocated for the area.
After that vote takes place, Cook said, it would be a perfect time for the region to look at adding New Town to the list.
“We’ve just accepted that with all the schedule changes for projects, we will need to make regular changes to this list,” Cook said. “Any change to New Town Road could be fit in during that process.”