I-540 takes back seat to Fayetteville

November 20, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
The state plans to invest $270 million to help Fayetteville complete its I-295 loop - a road that currently handles fewer than 10,000 cars a day. That's not sitting well in Raleigh where unfinished I-540 handles 10 times as much traffic.But Fayetteville happens to be the hometown of the two key men who helped broker the deal: Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett and State Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand.

"Everybody knows the process we've got now is broken," offered Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan.

But Tippet says the Fayetteville project has been on the books for years - and the decision to fund it now has nothing to do with where he's from.

"I would hope I have some influence - not that much of course - because I don't," he said.

Tippett has just a few more weeks on the job his before his boss, Governor Mike Easley, is termed out. He says the Fayetteville loop is needed now before the Defense Department ramps up its major expansion of Fort Bragg.

"If we can train these people to go to war for us, the least we can do back home is provide a safe commute to work," said Tippet.

But Bryan sees the Fayetteville loop funding as a last minute act of pork politics, not patriotism.

"This is not based on any type of technical analysis," he said. "It's being positioned for a political standpoint."

Bryan heads a Wake regional transportation board which hopes to finish the much busier I-540 loop thru an unpopular toll road program.

"We were hearing all along that there was no money. Well, all of the sudden there's $270 million in the last few days of an administration," he said.

Tippett makes no apologies.

"I think the primary focus here is to spread the money around statewide, since it's collected statewide," he said.

He says the loop money was not awarded to simply follow him home.

"Do you think the money for the Fayetteville loop would be going to Fayetteville if you were not from Fayetteville?" asked Eyewitness News. "Well, I would certainly hope so," he responded.

The decision to fund the I-295 project is being hailed in Fayetteville. Officials there say the project to connect Fort Bragg to I-95 north of the Cape Fear River has been in the works for 30 years. They also say the Base Realignment and Closure plan makes it a project that has to be completed within the next three years.

"You know, we're anticipating over 19,000 jobs - a billion dollars a year in economic impact. This is a huge economic engine coming to this part of the state and this transportation corridor we're putting in place at the same time is a vital part of that," explained Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne.

Right now, the future I-295 runs 7 miles from I-95 to Ramsey Street. The money approved by Tippett would take the road all the way to the All-American Freeway.

Chavonne says the money approved by Tippett has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with progress.

"We can defend that anytime. I'd be happy to do that and would invite my other mayor friends across North Carolina to come to Fayetteville. We'll be happy to show them," he said.

Chavonne also said if road project money was awarded based on city size, Charlotte and Raleigh would get it all. There wouldn't be any road development in any other part of the state.


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