LUMBERTON — Retired teacher Henry Bruce has spent the past 30 years transversing a bumpy road, with numerous pitfalls, obstacles and obstructions — words that could also be used to describe his efforts to get it paved.
Bruce is one of more than an estimated 250 residents who have been living just off of Ball Park Road, which, along with adjacent dirt roads Pinwheel Circle and the aptly named Sandpit Circle, he describes as among Robeson County’s most treacherous pathways. Further complicating the matter of getting the road repaired is the fact that no one, not the state, the county or a private owner, claims responsibility for it.
According to Bruce, the 1.9-mile road’s numerous potholes, one of which is said to be nearly 3 feet deep, have been responsible for weekly incidents of passing vehicles becoming stuck or badly damaged, particularly when rain puddles mask the depth of the various holes.
Bruce sees the road as more than just an inconvenience, but a safety hazard, noting that emergency personnel, including firefighters, have been stuck on the road, which is off Old Whiteville Road, southeast of Lumberton.
Neighbor Brandon Lowery claims that during rainy months the road traps two to three cars a week.
“Matter of fact, this one delivery guy just last week went out there to help this lady free her car, and he got his own car stuck, then tripped over his own towing cable and broke his ankle,” Lowery said. “I saw him the other day on crutches.”
One post office worker, who asked not to be named, said she saw five cars get stuck on the road at once.
Last fall the Lumberton Post Office told some of the residents that it could no longer deliver mail to them, and on March 4 the Public Schools of Robeson County decided school buses could no longer travel the road to pick up students.
“I just paid over $1,500 in taxes and what are we getting out of it?” Bruce said. “Someone is going to die down here because they can’t be gotten to. It is a pretty bad mess.”
The 77-year-old Bruce, who suffers from chronic back pain that he says is exacerbated by the bumps in the road, moved into the home he built in 1984 on land purchased from developer C.R. Hays. According to Bruce, Hays promised to have the road paved soon after Bruce had finished his house, but that never happened.
Bruce said Hays is dead and none of his surviving relatives are claiming responsibility over the road.
“The county won’t claim the road, the state won’t, so who will?” Bruce said. “The Department of Transportation just told us we were on our own.”
In 2001, Bruce, along with others from his neighborhood, petitioned the Department of Transportation to take responsibility for the road, but were told that because Hays acquired the subdivision in 1977, it fell under a law which prevents the state from purchasing or taking over any subdivision created after 1975, unless it has already been paved to the state’s road standards.
Bruce inquired about the cost of paving the road.
“[Chuck] Miller from Department of Transportation came out here a couple of years ago, and he said it would cost about $450,000 per mile,” Bruce said. “Or $700,000 just to add dirt and gravel.”
Bruce collected more than 60 signatures to petition the Robeson County Board of Commissioners to take notice, and on Monday the board decided to send a letter to state legislators to ask that the subdivision statute be changed from affecting subdivisions created after 1975 to include subdivisions created after 1990.
“It has been absolutely a disaster,” said Tom Taylor, commissioner for District 7, which includes the area. “There are roads that are paved that don’t even have anybody living on them in this state. No houses, no nothing. These people live where they live because that was all they could afford at the time and they need help like anyone does.”
Taylor believes that the biggest hurdle for the legislators will be the cost, but said that he doesn’t know what other option people in neighborhoods like Bruce’s have.
“They need help bad, and it ain’t just Ball Park Road either, it is is all over the county,” Taylor said. “I get a bunch of calls. To tell you the truth, I have been fighting this thing since 2000.”
Like Taylor, Bruce has been in it for the long haul, but unlike Taylor, he doesn’t feel as if he has much of a choice.
“If I could move, I would,” Bruce said. “If I could get what I need to get out of this property. But who is going to buy it? Who? Who is going to give me a fair market price after they see that road out there? No one.”