Farewell (?) Ray

Well, I don't believe Ray Gronberg is gone to Durham never to be heard from in Orange again. Neil Offen did report today that Ray has been reassigned to a Durham County beat. Unfortunately Neil's piece is not available through the on-line edition.

Ray does have a great memory of votes and issues over the years he's covered Orange. If you don't believe that, try having him edit your work on some of those issues! I still have some of the lengthy email exchanges to attest to it.

I'm sure, despite his Parkwood address and Durham beat, he'll be popping up on these pages from time to time to keep us honest.

Good luck, Ray.



Hey, All,
Ray alluded above to the fact that transportation work is excruciatingly slow and plodding, and generally results in 'tiny victories'. Occassionally you can do a little better than that: The following correspondence I received today from NCDOT Division 7 engineer Mike Mills shows that on occasion, persistent plodding---and knowing who to poke---and how, and where to look for money---pays:

Re: Homestead Road

Orange County

Dear Mr. Zaffron:

Doug Galyon asked me to respond to your letter of July 1, 2005 requesting an update on the funding and construction schedule for this project. We have programmed $650,000 of North Carolina Moving Ahead funds, researched the existing right of way, and begun designing the plans for construction. Design should be complete by September 30. If additional right of way and/or construction easements are required, we hope to have aquisition completed by the end of the year. This would allow the construction to begin in Spring 2006.

At this time, I am not aware of any further action required by the Town of Carrboro or Orange County.

(Mike Mills)

This refers to a request that was brought by neighbors in the Homestead/High School/Rogers road area, to the Asssembly of Governments to do something about the sorry state of pedestrian safety and access for kids in surrounding neighborhoods to Chapel Hill High---particularly in view of the new traffic likely generated by Winmore.

The project consists of sidewalks along Homestead connecting Camden, the Highlands and Rogers Road, with signalization, a turn lane and crosswalks at Homestead/High School to provide safe access and bring some order to the chaos.

It's worth noting that the initial request was made in the summer of '03, which brings total time from citizen request to anticipated completion of about 3 years (including a 1 year delay due to an internal bureaucratic flubbudup at DOT.) : In the tektonically paced world of NCDOT, this is warp 12 performance.

Maybe you can't lose 'em all.


I for one will really miss Ray-one of my favorite reporters.He always knows what he is talkng about and is fair.Plus I just think that he is an interesting person who cares about what happens in our community.Thanks Ray-I'll miss you

As I said on related thread...

Ray, why are you doing this? This hurts me. I counted on you to keep on top of things. I really enjoyed your intensity. What a loss!

Ray's enclycopedic knowledge will be a loss, but I've seen other reporters cover the local beat here for too long. Eventually all the issues and characters start to run together and their boredom becomes evident in their writing. Good for Ray for choosing to move on before things get stale.

Meanwhile, on a related note: I have noticed that the Herald's website now generates pop-under ads whenever I visit. This while they are contually removing useful content from their website! What gives? I've rarely seen a paper so hostile to it's readers...

Good article Ray. It's really important to keep the connection between roads/traffic and protection of environmentally sensitive lands in front of everyone. I hope the new Chapel Hill reporter will do something similar for Smith Level and Jones Ferry Roads.

Funny how Candidate Ed has made another appearance via his NCDOT "expertise".

Stagecoach developed as an overflow corridor many years ago; its paving brought a predictable overwhelming increase in the traffic flow. If local officials, like Ed, are just now realizing that we need a rethink of this I40/Southpoint/751/Parkwood access corridor because of the bridge replacement - well - it demonstrates more of a lack of vision, imagination and proactivity than anything else.

Sure, those wetlands are used to "launder" wastewater but expanding the road's width, and it concomitant increase in pollution into the Jordan watershed, isn't the answer. The questions Ed should be asking are "Why do people use Stagecoach over I40? How much of a role does the screwed up I40/Hwy54 interchange play in that decision? What can we do to encourage these drivers to shift?"

Maybe hard to articulate for "sound bite" politics, but a leader whom had genuine concerns about this corridor would've worked harder to get some solid answers. Maybe it's easy to avoid the complexities as a candidate, probably forgiveable for a non-incumbent that either is unaware of the problem or think it lies outside of their purview, but for an incumbent candidate that trades on his NC-DOT/transportation credentials, Ed's response is kind of lame.

Will, your remarks have nothing to do with the topic of this thread.

Please submit a guest post if you cannot find a relevant topic to dicuss.

I have to wonder why Fred Black's 'off topic' comments were removed from the forum and WillR just gets a warning and his post stays public.

Please direct your non-Ray-related comments to the new open thread or feel free to contact the editor.

Although Will may have gone a bit astray (for this thread) with the extent of his focus on Ed Harrison, his post does allude to some relevant questions.

Part of it is the manner in which this story is all over the map. It appears on A-1 in the print edition but in Orange on the web. The opening is about commuting from Chatham through southwest Durham to RTP but the question of a road study on Stagecoach is raised by Alice Gordon then responded to, in part, by Bob Atwater. Durham transportation planning seems oddly to have been left out of the mix. It is unusually sloppy for Ray to have failed to clarify the jurisdictional questions particularly as relate to his choice of sources.

In the midst of all this confusion, Gronberg inserts Ed Harrison. Is that because Harrison is a town council member? If so, what's the relevance. Is it because Harrison lives in a part of Durham County (off Ephesus Church Rd) from which he would rarely need to take the route in question? Or is it because Harrison likes to promote himself as some sort of transportation expert?

And, in the last case, how does that self-promotion factor into the Herald's decision to use a candidate for reelection as a source in such a clearly tenuously related case?

This article certainly seems to validate my point raised above that Ray is not likely to stray too far from Orange County nor from his political interests therein.

While I'm not intimately involved in this issue, and hence, not terribly knowledgeable (heaven forfend!), I believe it to be one that was generated at the MPO (On whose Board Alice, Ed and I all serve), raised by Alice, and discussed by Alice and Ed, if recall serves me correctly. That, I imagine, is how Ray saw Ed as a 'go-to' source. Mark Ahrendsen, who is the lead staff member of the MPO (for whom the City of Durham is the Lead Planning Agency) was heavily quoted, and seems to me, to have a clear understanding of the issues involved, but as he said, needs policy guidance from elected folk about what series of solutions to pursue (i.e. signalization changes vs. adding pavement).---Sorry if I'm exacerbating the tenuous relevance of this topic to the thread, but seems to me a discussion of how sources are chosen is at least tangentally germaine here. If my little postulation here is bogus, I'm sure we'll hear about it soon enough.


So, Alex, is there no one from Durham on the MPO (obviously I know otherwise) or are they just not very concerned with Stagecoach Road?

Dunno, Dan,

Guess you'll have to ask Becky, Ellen, Diane or Bill.


Or Ray, perhaps.



Hit 'send' too soon---OK, Ray, wanna jump in and solve this?
Folks are turning blue over here.


Lots of stuff to deal with here. I agree with the suggestion that Ruby should perhaps split this into two threads. I'll make two posts here to facilitate that process.

First, in answer to Mary's question, the move to Durham came about at my request. It is basically part of the continuing shakeout from the January takeover.

The genesis can be traced to the shakeup that happened at the CHH back in the winter of 2002. At that time, I basically had a choice about whether to continue in reporting, in a very high-profile, Durham-based beat, or to go into management. I elected at that time to go into management because I felt that would better address some quality-of-life issues that badly needed addressing. In the short run, the decision paid off as well as I could've hoped (the house is Parkwood noted by Dan is part of that).

My management position disappeared in January's hoohah, however, and I got tossed back into the reporting pool. At that time, the only reporting position open in Chapel Hill was the Hillsborough/Orange County beat. I got plugged into that and quickly found that it conflicted in a really maximal way with what had become important to me over the previous two years. The solution was to find a new beat, and when the Durham County position became vacant I jumped at it.

Ruby also hit at part of the matter when she noted the problem of going stale. I've done pretty much everything there is to do in governmental affairs in Orange County and there was very little in them that could surprise me.

By contrast, Durham County is another world. This was underscored for me Tuesday afternoon when I read County Manager Mike Ruffin's 2005-06 budget request. It called for half a billion (that's with a "b") dollars in spending, 55 new positions and a tax increase that in percentage terms still clocked in below the inflation rate. The combined budgets of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County would fit nicely in a corner of that.

Now, as for Dan and Will:

One of the truisms of the newspaper business is that the most interesting -- and difficult-to-cover -- stories lie at the intersection of beats. The Stagecoach Road story is one of these. Other recent examples include the Wal-Mart story (originated in Orange, based in Chatham), the Umstead Act story (originated by UNC, heavy effects on Chapel Hill) and the Erwin Trace story (elements of which belonged to the four reporters covering Durham County, Durham city, Chapel Hill and Orange County). Coordinating coverage of issues like this is a continuing editor's nightmare.

The Stagecoach Road corridor is of tremendous importance to anyone living in north Chatham or the 27713 zipcode in Durham -- two areas, by the way, that are critical to the H-S in business terms. The traffic problems described in the story are simply part of daily life for folks living there. While still working in downtown Chapel Hill, for example, I commuted in from Parkwood via I-40 and MLK Blvd instead of coming in on 54 strictly because I didn't like fooling with the 54/40/Farrington bottleneck.

From a jurisdictional standpoint, however, the corridor is a mess. The roads in question (Massey Chapel, Stagecoach, Farrington, Mount Carmel Church and Old Lystra) lie in three counties that don't always cooperate. The counties themselves are in three different DOT operating divisions (Durham is in Divison 5, Orange in Division 7 and Chatham in Division 8) that also do not always cooperate.

It is a mystery why Alice Gordon was the person who piped up about this at the MPO level. Unfortunately, Alice is not around this week to shed any light on the matter. Like most of her colleagues on the Orange commissioners (and Ellen Reckhow from the Durham commissioners) she's presently in Hawaii for the annual National Association of Counties convention. I've no idea which hotel she's at and in any event have no need or desire to mess around with an eight-hour time difference. And I had no idea that Alice was involved until Mark Ahrendsen told me so earlier this week.

In any event, however, Ed got quoted because he's the guy who first alerted me a month ago to the possibility that the MPO might take some detailed look at the corridor. The original tip came in a conversation about Wal-Mart, a story that held priority until I moved to the Durham office.

(I'd note at this point that Ed probably deserves credit for inspiring the Wal-Mart story. Neither gentleman has come right out and said this, but my impression is that Ed urged Barry Jacobs to pay attention to what was happening at the county line, and Barry in turn alluded to the matter during the commissioners' last meeting before their summer break. At that point, Wal-Mart-on-the-border had been a rumor for months, but hadn't made anyone's paper because no one had a way into the story. The DOT/driveway permit angle, however, gave us a new approach that was invaluable because DOT, unlike the developer, is subject to the Open Records Law.)

Bob Atwater is in the story because his district covers southwest Durham (essentially 27713) in addition to Chatham County. The entire corridor is in his Senate district, and in his district alone. He's the only elected official at any level short of the governor who can claim jurisdiction over the whole thing. State senators don't usually make a point of monitoring $2 million bridge replacements, but this one is so important that we're seeing just that. Partly Atwater's involved because his constiuents are asking him to be involved, and partly because he traverses the route in question when traveling between his home and Raleigh.

One other thing, the MPO's response is muddled because the staff at this point really doesn't have a clear grasp of what they're being asked to do. That's what Ahrendsen was driving at in the story (and what Alex recognizes above).

So much for Dan's epistemological question. As for Will's post, I'd say only that in 13 year of covering this stuff there are only three officials who've been consistently helpful to my efforts to suss out the DOT bureaucracy. Ed and Alex are two of them, and Richard Franck (former CH Town Council) is the other. CH mayors Foy and Waldorf have been somewhat helpful on specific issues (Weaver Dairy Road and South Columbia Street, respectively) they care about passionately but have had less to offer regarding other matters. Everyone else is simply paddling blind without a map.

For an example of what I'm talking about, consider the recent allegation that UNC was behind the latest delay of the South Columbia Street project. To the layman, it no doubt sounded plausible. Bill Strom, the apparent source of the theory, no doubt believed it. But from 13 years of talking to Ed, Alex and Richard about this stuff, it sounded to me like a crock. One of the great unsung truths of politics and policy in this state is that DOT's Transportation Improvement Plan is for all intents and purposes a fantasy; it promises far more construction than the state can pay for. Even the Independent recognizes this, and recently dismissed the UNC angle as a "conspiracy theory."

The thing to remember about transportation policy is that grand gestures of "leadership" of the sort Will seems to be advocating don't really work. The planning process for road improvements is intended to be slow; it has to reconcile many different environmental, property, monetary and jurisdictional interests, and bad things (e.g. interstates running through neighborhoods) usually happen when people try to short-circuit the process. Mastering the process takes more work than most elected officials care to put out, and doesn't really bring a lot of political rewards. It's work that's geared toward the patient accumulation of tiny victories and involves playing a lot of defense.

Correction: Bob Atwater's Senate district doesn't cover the Orange portion of the Stagecoach corridor. But it's true that he has more of the corridor in his jurisdiction than anyone else save the governor.

Ray, an amazing response and a great demonstration of what the Chapel Hill beat is losing.

I agree that mastering the intricacies of the transportation puzzle is not something that many elected officials seem interested in so Ed should be commended for his devotion to those matters. But, even in a process that is intended to move slowly - a process that requires maybe more of an inter-jurisdictional consensus than most - surely 4 years has been more than sufficient time to take a lead addressing the Stagecoach Rd. issue (that is if one had the foresight and concern to do so). And if Ed was so helpful in dismissing the UNC-South Columbia as just so much of a "crock", what has he done in the last 4 years, with his expertise, to lead Chapel Hill forward out of that mess?

Chapel Hill has got a tough slog ahead of it these next four years and I believe we need a Council firing on all eight cylinders. That means leadership - maybe quiet, maybe slow but it must be effective at less than geologic timescales.

Expertise without vision, knowledge without action, this doesn't seem to be a great recipe for any type of effective leadership.

Will, the council has two interests on South Columbia Street:

1). Preventing a major widening.

2). Getting the planned pedestrian and bike improvements built.

Interest #1 is pretty easy. Federal law makes it very hard for DOT to override a town's objections to highway projects of this size.

Interest #2 is difficult. One thing that's escaped notice is that the professed rationale for the project has almost disappeared with the advent of fare-free transit on the CHT system. The big increase in ridership recorded in the last few years is the function of many things, including the price cut and new routes. Some part of it is a substitution effect as people who'd otherwise walk or ride bikes choose to ride the bus instead. I would suspect that this would be pronounced in corridors like South Columbia where there's a lot of bus service and not much accommodation for biking or walking.

There is also an issue in that it helps greatly on projects DOT sees as "political" rather than engineering-driven to have a senior state legislator champion the effort. Basnight does this all the time, much to the chagrin of the environmental community. Hackney probably has the weight to pull it off but chooses not to use it that way. I don't see how any single council member, or the group collectively, can persuade him to change his approach. He doesn't owe them anything.

The Stagecoach corridor has climbed the attention food chain as officials have grown more concerned about what's happening in Chatham. The cork there popped in 2002 and I don't think anyone north of the Chatham County line really saw the political change there coming.

As for the council "firing on all cylinders," I'd say that's difficult given the change in its MO that's evolved since the 2001 election. Post-election, Foy and Strom both asserted primacy on transportation issues (Foy claiming a MPO/TAC seat, Strom having himself appointed the town's representative to the TTA board) despite their lack of proven expertise on this front. Both serve on the TAC (Strom is TTA's rep on that organization) and with the two of them in the room there's not a lot of oxygen left over for anyone else from Chapel Hill.

"Firing on all cylinders"is also not the way folks like Dan want the council to operate. Historically, they've argued that the council works best when one or two council members establish the vision and a majority of the other members fall in line behind it. (See this article from 1997, where former Orange-Chatham Sierra Club chair Greg Gangi explained that the purpose of the group's endorsements that year was to assemble a loyal majority behind the leadership of former council members Joyce Brown and Julie McClintock. This was an election where the basic strategy from the left/enviro side side of the fence was set by Gangi, Coleman and Strom (before his first run for office). Since 2001, and even more since 2003, the council has evolved into this sort of leaders-and-led situation.

The antithesis of particular way of running things is a situation where the eight council members and the mayor essentially are all free agents intellectually and decide things collaboratively. This situation more or less obtained from 1999 to 2001, when the Meadowmont-driven factionalization that preceeded that term dissolved.

Well, Ray, based on the above, if the Herald brass didn't send you to Durham they sure should have. Your personal bias has always leaked through your reporting and editorializing. Above you make it very clear. You've long argued to me that the key factor in local politics is social relations. Until now, I had no idea that you were speaking of your own.

To readers who do not know what I'm referring to, it might be helpful to consider the following:

1) the thinking of "folks like Dan" is demonstrated by an article by Greg Gangi that I have never seen before and that was written when I was living 1000 miles away and hard at work on two city council campaigns in Iowa City.

2) I do not believe that Ray will find any evidence that I myself believe that one or two "visionaries" should be leaders to an otherwise sheeplike Council. The simple reason is that I do not hold that belief.

3) I had no involvement in any 1997 endorsements since I was involved elsewhere. As for the "leadership of McClintock", let me say that in the three opportunities that I had to influence endorsements when she was running (1987, 1989, 1995), she did not receive the endorsement in question.

4) Ray's most absurd point was that left/environmentalist strategy was "set" by Gangi, Coleman, and Strom. Apart from the fact that I didn't live here at the time, prior to Strom's election to the Council, he and I collaborated only on economic development issues. None other.

5) There might be others active on OP who object to that assertion about three people setting a "left/enviro" agenda. Ruby, Mark C, Joe C, Mark M, and Alex were all helping set that agenda in the mid-90s.

So, folks may want to ask themselves why Ray, who certainly has access to the above facts, would make such starkly incorrect pronouncements in this forum. It can only be explained by his deep bias and antipathy toward certain parties in Chapel Hill (those who, in CHH editorials, he refers to as "Chapel Hill's political class", perhaps).

Ray says there is very little in Orange County to surprise him. Oh? Does the truth of the above surprise him? Or did he know the truth (my guess) and post its opposite anyway? We know what Al Franken calls that.

Good riddance, I say. We can only hope the Herald will send him on to Raleigh where the city budgets are even bigger.

Dan, you and Ray need each other.

Nice try, but why do I feel that won't diffuse the situation : )

Actually, Mary, I did very well prior to the early 1990s when Ray showed up. I also did very well for several years in Iowa City where I had a regular column and was very active. Although I don't imagine I thought of Ray much during those years, he apparently missed me to the extent of imagining my presence and influence in various matters. I've heard of children with imaginary friends but this has to be a first: a reporter with an imaginary bete noire.

I suspect that if more of the transportation improvement projects required only $650K from NC-DOT then we would see a vast improvement in timelines. It doesn't hurt that this project also involved student safety. Unfortunately, the delays in the proposed improvements on South Columbia and the 15-501/Erwin Rd. Superstreet seem to be be more the norm.

Ray I would like to echo Ms. Gist's comments about your reporting. I always felt you made an effort to present a well rounded article. Its hard for any human to keep their personnel views out of a new report of any kind.

Good luck!


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