WRAL Investigates

Sampson County home to 'road to nowhere'?

Posted May 5, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2010 9:31 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina spent six figures to pave Old Cotton Gin Road in Sampson County, so why does it end in the middle of a swamp?

The road is just below Mount Elam Church Road near Midway. It's a Sunday drive kind of road, weaving past fields and forests – a half mile of blacktop, rolling along to a creek and a bridge.

Then, out of nowhere, barricades, “No Trespassing” signs and piles of dirt appear.

“To tell you the truth, it’s just what it is – a road to nowhere,” said nearby resident Sheila Douglas.

She used to drive it all the time. Until 2006, the stretch of Old Cotton Gin Road, with no homes or businesses, had been a dirt road. The state spent $120,000 to pave it.

“(It was) just money wasted,” Douglas said. “I feel it could have been in good use somewhere else.”

Department of Transportation district engineer Lin Reynolds said the state needs 60 feet of right-of-way for a paved road, much more than what's required for dirt or gravel.

“We paved up to a good break point, which is the bridge, the same way we do if we come up to a stop sign,” Reynolds said.

The landowner on one side of the bridge granted the state the right to pave, but the landowner on the other side denied it. So the state agreed to let the last leg of the road remain unpaved but open to the public.

“The property could change hands, and we have had people to reconsider,” Reynolds said.

Gary Baggett Sr., a hog farmer, owns the land. The road ended up, before it was dug up, on Feed Store Road. A year later, Baggett asked county commissioners to have the state abandon the road, saying it was a headache for his family because of drug dealers and illegal dumping.

The state consented, and that paved the way for Baggett to have the road closed. County commissioners held a public hearing, and nobody showed up to protest, so they voted to close it.

Baggett declined WRAL’s requests for an interview, but Reynolds says paving the segment opposite his farm wasn't a waste.

“And it’s our policy to make roads as safe as possible, whether somebody lives on it or not,” Reynolds said.

DOT officials cite a 1989 policy requiring the state to pave all secondary roads it's in charge of maintaining.

“It makes it safer for the traveling public to have a road paved,” Reynolds said. "We have over half the roads that we pave that are dead end that do not have anybody living on them, but by state law and state policy, it is a state road that we have to maintain."

Wyman Honeycutt, a landowner along the paved piece of Old Cotton Gin Road, also declined an on-camera interview but said he had no problem with the dead end.

Neighbor Kenneth Boggs said he’d like to see the DOT “tear up the whole road” and let the blacktop surrender to fields and forests.

“If they’re going to tear up just one end of it, then tear up the whole thing,” he said.

DOT officials said they don't want to deprive residents of a paved road if just one property owner refuses to grant the right of way. They say while many paving projects are done on dead end roads, abandoning a road, as in this case, is rare.