Wow. Here we are on the brink of a brand new year.
And what a year it promises to be.
Although none of us have a crystal ball, it doesn't take one to predict that one of the major focal points -- and points of controversy -- will be the upcoming elections.
And not just on the national level, either, although that may prove to be one for the ages, regardless of who eventually comes on out top.
Locally, we're in for some big changes.
When all the dust settles by this time in 2021, we'll have a new U.S. Congressman, a new State Representative and a new State Senator.
Of all of those, it is the changes at the Congressional level that have the potential to affect us the most.
It would appear likely that U.S. Rep. David Price will be re-elected -- he's been around a long time and takes nothing for granted -- and I suspect we'll be using a lot more ink to cover him than our current Congressman, George Holding.
Truth be told, Big Foot has made more appearance in Franklin County over the last three or four years than Holding who, to the best of my knowledge, has never, ever held a public meeting in Franklin County, even though he allegedly represents our interests in D. C.
The former U.S. prosecutor, who doesn't even live in the Congressional District he represents (the Constitution doesn't require it), apparently has visited this county for fund-raisers but has never held a public meeting, not even to discuss or explain health care.
That was stunning, especially after he voted for that GOP fiasco called Trumpcare which thankfully never got off the ground. And, darn it, I was really looking forward to hearing his defense of that seemingly indefensible proposal that would have hurt so many people in this district.
Holding did set one record, however. He managed to hold fewer meetings than one of our previous Congressional representatives, Renee Ellmers, a nurse from Dunn who, most of us thought at the time, was the most reclusive politician in American history. She held that seat from 2011 to 2017, although she didn't carry Franklin County.
However, Ellmers did make at least one public appearance in the county (and canceled several others) so she's lost her most-reclusive title to Holding.
Price won't be in the running for that title, however.
He's just the opposite and it's already started.
Before I was paying much attention to the Congressional redistricting -- which encouraged Holding to toss in the towel as the district suddenly reverted to its more Democratic past -- I suddenly started getting e-mails from Price's office.
They were seeking input on local issues, explaining the Congressman's positions on major issues and, in general, just getting in touch with Franklin County.
I wondered about that -- until the new districts were revealed and it came clear that we're moving to District 4, which had been represented by Price before another redistricting.
My prediction is that both Carey and I are going to have to brush up on our Congressional reporting skills in coming weeks because, unless I'm wildly mistaken, we're going to be seeing A LOT more of Price and his staff than we ever did of Holding or Ellmers.
Whether you end up agreeing with Price and his positions or not, it should be at least somewhat reassuring to know that he's in touch with local folks and has some understanding of local issues and challenges.
We're also going to be electing a new state senator this year after our current guy, John Alexander, announced that he wasn't going to seek re-election.
Alexander, who lives in Raleigh, was quite visible during the election cycle and, I think, visited every town council in Franklin County at least once.
But after he was elected, he became a lot more reclusive and I can't remember the last time I ran into him here in the county.
There is a lot of interest in this seat, however, and it will be interesting to see who manages to capture it this coming November. We're also due for a new state representative after our current one, Lisa Stone Barnes of Nash County, decided she might like the state Senate better than the House.
She decided not to seek re-election to the House and filed for the Nash County seat now held by Richard Horner, who decided not to seek re-election.
Barnes, who lives in Nash County, has remained somewhat connected and involved in Franklin County issues during her term -- and maybe we'll still have an ally in the General Assembly if she wins the State Senate post.
Barnes, you may remember, was one of the politicians, along with House Speaker Tim Moore, who held a press conference in a muddy field along U.S. 401 recently and pledged to work to find the money to get that highway finished all the way to Louisburg.
With a little luck, maybe we can keep some of her attention focused on U.S. 401 and the economic development benefits that it will bring to this region.
Time will tell. Don't bet the farm.
The coming year will see most of Franklin County focusing its attention on one thing: Growth!
Franklin County is changing rapidly, whether we like the changes or not, and it's something our elected leaders are going to have to deal with or we are going to get run over.
Most importantly, it is imperative that local residents -- the people who already live in Franklin County and have built their lives here -- either stay involved or get involved in some of these issues.
Often decisions that are made during what seem like boring, interminable meetings are those that shape the future more than many of us can imagine at the time.
We've already touched on U.S. 401 and the need to get it four-laned all the way to Louisburg.
That, simply, is a no-brainer and it's important that we keep all our attention focused on making that happen -- and that includes being the "squeaking wheel" in Raleigh where the money must be appropriated.
There is another issue that can have a huge impact on Louisburg and central Franklin County yet despite page 1 stories, drawings and even a public hearing, it seems to be just below the "radar" as far as local issues go.
Obviously, that's the massive -- and massively disruptive -- changes that are being pondered for Louisburg's Bickett Boulevard.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation hired an outside consulting firm to design potential solutions to Bickett's long-standing problems. They say that was for efficiency but I wonder if it wasn't just a chance to point a finger if things get controversial and exclaim, "don't blame us, it's their plan!"
Those "solutions" were recently outlined in a public hearing held inexplicably at Louisburg College instead of a Louisburg-owned building, like the Training Center, which is adjacent to Bickett and which probably would have drawn more input from local residents.
After those proposals -- there were actually three -- were outlined, we suggested that a great deal more study and discussion was needed before the first shovelful of dirt was turned.
That hasn't happened.
Nor, as best we can tell, is it planned.
Or, even being considered.
Amazingly, the Louisburg Town Council hasn't discussed these proposals at all despite the fact that they will have a huge impact on the Boulevard and all the businesses along it.
Over the last few weeks, I've had some unofficial conversations with property owners and business owners along the Boulevard and, from what I can tell, there is barely lukewarm support for any part of these proposed improvements.
And lukewarm is perhaps an overstatement.
Coupled with that is a concern -- a very real concerns as far as I can tell -- that these proposed improvements will drastically restrict ingress and egress to many of the businesses since left turns will be severely restricted.
All of the plans also call for the elimination of the center turning lane -- which we often call the suicide lane -- and turning it into a grass median.
But the biggest objection I've heard from local folks is about the three -- yes, up to three! -- roundabouts being considered in one of the plans. One would be at the NC 581 intersection, one at the NC 56 East intersection and one at the NC 39 South intersection.
Those roundabouts would have to be huge to work for the increasing amount of tractor-trailer traffic and two-lane roundabouts to keep from causing traffic bottlenecks that would result from two lanes converging into a single-lane roundabout.
I'm just not sure we Americans are ready for three, two-lane roundabouts on a congested road like Bickett.
This overall project is expected to cost at least $41 million and would cause literally years of disruption along the Boulevard in order to effect such massive changes.
And yet, almost nothing has been said by local officials and I find that perplexing.
I'm told a similar proposal was aired for Morehead City and it caused a huge uproar there. Apparently the town council was so upset it hired its own engineers and came up with a scaled-down, more common sense option that eventually got DOT approval.
One of the key aspects of Morehead's changes was lowering the speed limit -- and then actually enforcing the new speed limits. The combination apparently has drastically lessened traffic crashes there.
And isn't that what we've been suggesting for Bickett for years?
Bickett has two problems: Too many driveways and street "cuts" into the Boulevard; and cars and trucks that are allowed to travel at speeds that are simply unsafe and provide reaction times too short for many drivers.
From where I sit on Bickett -- and on March 1 I'll have been sitting here for 29 years! -- reducing speed, enforcing traffic regulations and closing about a third of the driveway options that simply aren't needed would make the Boulevard much, much safer and save taxpayers much of that $41 million that this more radical plan will cost.
But I just wish our elected officials would discuss this and provide some local input on this very important topic -- and not just bow down to NCDOT's plan which, honestly, wasn't even developed by NCDOT!
And at the risk of being accused of taking a cheap shot, let me remind you that the lovely "bump out" on Main Street in Downtown Louisburg was a DOT-mandated change that virtually no one fully appreciates, except maybe those who have destroyed tires, rims and front-end alignments by "discovering" it by accident!
So, there you have it. A few of the changes we're going to be facing in 2020 -- and you can bet your last dollar that there will be far more coming at us soon.
Enjoy the holiday and allow me to suggest one New Year's resolution for 2020: Please vow to stay informed and involved in local issues and decisions. Your input is vital!
Happy New Year!