Fixing the Death Highway of the 9th District

When I returned to Union County after my husband retired from the Air Force, I was amazed by how poor the roads in Union County were, even when compared to other parts of North Carolina.

At that time Union County did not have an inch of an Interstate Highway or even any roads roughly comparable to an interstate. Since the NC Senator who lived in Union County was supposed to be one of the most politically powerful people in the state, a member of the so-called Gang of Eight, the people who ran the government, it was hard to understand why our roads were so awful.

At one time, 601 North, where the Senator lived, was known as the Aaron Plyler Highway while 601 South, for obvious reasons, was known as the Death Highway. The two lane stretch of road from Hilltop to the South Carolina border was the scene of far too many fatal accidents. Every time there was a fatal accident the Highway Patrol attributed it to driver error, but I kept asking who put out the bulletin directing all of the bad drivers in the area to go to 601S for their fatal accidents. There were too many drivers making errors on the same road for that answer to fly.

So, when I ran for the North Carolina Legislature, I promised to try to get the highway in NC 9th District re-engineered to a safer configuration. I’m not an engineer, but it was easy to see what the problem was. 601 South carried a lot of traffic and it was a mix of slow moving (like construction trucks) and fast moving (like headed to the beach) traffic. The road was so straight people thought they could easily see when it was safe to pass, but it was so hilly they often didn’t see on-coming traffic before pulling out to pass, often with disastrous results. We needed a four lane road.

Hwy 601

How to Get it Done

I found out that over 27 million dollars would be needed to re-engineer the two lane road to a safer four lane divided configuration with no cross traffic or left hand turns and that realization was very daunting.  However, that turned out to be the easy part.  It seems that the Union County fuel tax revenue was being “donated” to other counties whose projects were “more important.”  More important than saving lives?  Union County had been a donor county for so long that no one wanted to change except us!

I pushed for the details of how much gas tax was collected in Union County and how much was spent on roads in Union County. The request alone stirred things up. Originally NC officials said the Department of Revenue had no idea how much had been collected in fuel taxes over the years and DOT had no idea how much had been spent here. But after years of pushing, I got a map showing per capita highway spending and it confirmed what I suspected. Union County had been dead last in per capita highway spending.

I’m not going to claim sole responsibility for fixing the Death Highway because a lot of people were involved in moving it to the top of the “to do” list for DOT, but I did help build citizen support for fixing the problem. I did keep the pressure on in Raleigh. And I helped make it such an embarrassment to those responsible for denying us our fair share of road funding it became easier to fix the problem than to continue to ignore it.

Now,  if you take 601S driving to or from the beach, the probability of getting there safely is much higher.

The Monroe Bypass

When John Hancock on WBT announced I had signed up to run for Congress in this race, he talked about how he remembered me being on his show years ago and our conversations about the prospect of a bypass that would go around Monroe and be a quicker route to the beach. He’s right about that. It took a lot of talking to build support to the point we could get the road built.

It wasn’t easy to get it done (it ended up being a billion dollar project) but at long last the Monroe Bypass is open and people trying to get to Charlotte from the East no longer have to cool their heels in the Monroe parking lot, which is what those who drove Highway 74 frequently called the stretch through Monroe.

At nineteen miles long, the Bypass is 5 miles shorter than the old highway and has proven very popular, currently carrying more than five thousand vehicles a day. It used to take forty-five minutes to get from Marshville to I-485 on a good day; now it is twenty-eight minutes. The cost? With a quick pass (free) it is $2.56 for a car and $10.24 for an eighteen wheeler! It bypasses more than a dozen traffic lights and has no cross traffic. It is not only more convenient and cheaper, it is much safer than the old route!

The Prosperity Project

The Monroe Bypass was actually part of a larger plan I came up with while in the legislature that I called The Prosperity Project. Highway 74 was a major trade route when I was a child. Had the southern part of the state gotten a fair share of road funding, there would have been an Interstate following the general route of Highway 74 long before I returned to North Carolina. That road would, I believe, make it a lot easier to attract business and alleviate the poverty that afflicts a significant portion of the 9th District.

I actually contacted every Chamber of Commerce from Asheville to Wilmington seeking support for constructing an Interstate from Asheville to Charlotte to Wilmington. Not surprisingly, most people along the proposed route thought it was a great idea. The people in Raleigh who wanted the money to be spent in their region were obviously far less enthusiastic.

But perseverance pays off. Significant portions of the proposed road are now in place, and the stretch of 74 from Rockingham to Wilmington has already been designated as a future interstate. We’re very close to bringing the Prosperity Project to completion and I believe I could do a lot more to help that project along as a member of Congress. I’m not aware of any other candidate who has developed or worked toward a similar project.

Vote May 14th for Fern Shubert for US Congress!