Poised for upgrade

Keith Road, located off Roseboro Highway, is set to receive attention with the hopes of being fully resurfaced in the future.

At long last, one of the final unpaved roads able to be resurfaced in Sampson County will be the site of work, according to local Department of Transportation officials.

Keith Road, located off N.C. 24 (Roseboro Highway), just west of the Sampson County Landfill, was previously tapped for $150,000, DOT’s Keith Eason said. However, a new system went into effect last year that funded roads on a statewide priority basis rather than at the county level, meaning Sampson’s unpaved roads were vying against others in more densely-populated areas.

“In state fiscal year 2013, Keith Road was partially funded at $150,000 and House Bill 817 changed the priority of paving unpaved roads, and made it a state priority list,” Eason explained. “A lot of roads did not make it on the list. Keith Road did fall on the list, but it was (ranked) number 1,281, which is pretty low as far as statewide priority.”

Under the law, which went into effect in July 2014, DOT gives county commissioners a list of the roads that get priority in its annual paving program. While that in itself was nothing new, it is no longer a county-by-county process where each county has its own list of roads that respective county boards must approve for paving. Rather, it is a notification of the state’s list.

The state grouped them on a statewide basis and put so much money in a pot. Some unpaved roads in Duplin and Sampson still made the list, such as Keith Road, but they were low on that list, which has translated to no new funding for construction.

Despite that, Eason said Keith Road would be receiving as much attention as current funding permits.

“Because it was funded with the old method and that funding source is no longer relevant, the partial funds are still there (for Keith Road), but we don’t have any new funds at this time,” Eason said. “My plan is to go ahead and do what the funds allow, which I hope is to construct the road and do everything but asphalt.”

As of last summer in Sampson, there was about 10 miles of unpaved roads. About half that amount are roads where DOT has right of way but they are not eligible for funding. The other half contains roads where property owners will not sign over right of way, making paving eligibility a moot point.

Unless a road is eligible through the points system, which takes into account traffic volume, the number of homes, schools and churches on it and its status as a potential bus route, among other criteria, DOT districts get highway funds to make road improvements and little else.

“There will be very little road building going on anymore unless the rules change,” then-DOT district engineer Lin Reynolds said last year. “We do have right of way on low-point roads so when they roll up the list, we’ll pave them, but that won’t happen for some time down the road.”

Sampson had 18 miles of unpaved roads several years ago. With the paving of numerous dirt roads, including Jimmy Road, Eura Tart Road, Johnny Road and Old Cotton Gin Road, as well as Ballance, Fleet Naylor, Jasper and Darden roads, that number has been cut nearly in half. With the statewide priority paving list and Sampson’s rural nature, it will be an uphill battle getting some of that remaining 10 miles paved, local DOT officials said.

“Honestly, it should have been that way the whole time,” Reynolds said of the statewide list. “We were paving roads that just had chicken houses on them because we were so far down the list. I think it’s going to be good. You want to pave the roads where the most people are using them. You don’t want to pave the roads that are going to the cornfield.”

Sampson was approved for $1.75 million in 2012-13, including $150,000 for unpaved road improvements and nearly $1.6 million for paved road improvements. The mileage of unpaved road has decreased since, thanks to that funding, but that has been accompanied by a similar drop in funding

DOT once had as much as $2 million in highway funds in each county (Sampson and Duplin) and last funding cycle was down to about $200,000 for each.

For now, Eason said, the $150,000 for unpaved road improvements would be expended, with the hope that additional funding would come.

“At that time, it will either be further up the list and hopefully receive funds that would be necessary to finish that, or we would just wait,” Eason stated.