Beckford Drive, I-85 set for federal funds

It’s not often that contact with the federal government brings instant gratification, but that’s what happened for the city of Henderson this week.

Mayor Clem Seifert led a delegation from the city to the nation’s capital Tuesday, and the group met Wednesday afternoon with Congressman G.K. Butterfield and his staff. That very afternoon Butterfield announced a victory on one of Henderson’s lobbying priorities.

The freshman Democrat from Wilson announced $16 million in transportation projects in his 1st District that are now earmarked for funding under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which is being reauthorized this year.

Those projects include two in Vance County: $1 million to reduce the state’s projected $26.9 million cost of repaving and bridge repairs along Interstate 85 between the Granville County line and U.S. 158; and $960,000 toward the $1.2 million cost of widening Beckford Drive in Henderson.

The Beckford Drive project is one of three items on the city’s “authorizations” federal lobbying list this year, according to information provided to the City Council on Monday night. The work will include curbs and improved drainage and is meant to relieve traffic congestion on the road.

“This is a major artery in Henderson where traffic problems need to be addressed,” Butterfield said in a news release.

The congressman saw Beckford Drive in person one week ago when he took a driving tour of Henderson before having lunch with city leaders and paying a visit to the Gateway Community Development Corp.

Beckford Drive was not a focus of the city’s lobbying in Washington this week, however.

The Ferguson Group, Henderson’s lobbying firm in Washington, has broken the city’s requests into three general groups: appropriations, authorizations and grants.

Seifert explained Monday night that this week’s trip was about the four items on the appropriations list: $1 million for the Kerr Lake Regional Water System; $1 million for Embassy Square; $450,000 to attack abandoned houses; and $80,000 for a public safety initiative. There’s no word on those items, which must await the long congressional appropriations process leading to the start of the next fiscal year Oct. 1.

The city has 11 federal grant requests, but those go through agencies and not Congress. So they weren’t part of the lobbying of members of Congress this week.

The three items on the city’s authorizations list — requests that need to be worked into legislation that sets federal priorities for several years — were not the issue for the city lobbyists this week, but that’s what Butterfield announced.

In addition to the Beckford Drive project, the city has requested two authorizations: a resolution of the contract the regional system has with the Army Corps of Engineers to take water from Kerr Lake and $450,000 from the Transportation Equity Act for streetscape improvements including paving, sidewalks, curbs and gutters.

The news is not good for the streetscape project, since it was not part of the Butterfield announcement.

The announcement does not mean the funding for Beckford Drive and I-85 is a done deal, but it looks good, Butterfield said in the news release. He said it is “highly likely” that the earmarked projects will survive when the House and Senate vote on the Transportation Equity Act, which then will need to be signed by President Bush. Butterfield expects that signature this year.