Neighborhood Groups vs. Business Developers in Durham: Expressway Politics in the Scarce Energy Age Public Deposited

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  • Luebke, Paul
    • Other Affiliation: Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • The East-West Expressway in Durham, North Carolina, assumed by its businessmen supporters to be completed routinely during the early 1980s, has been stalled primarily by a coalition of white and black neighborhood groups aligned against it. The Coalition for Expressway Alternatives delayed the project in February 1979 by persuading the Durham City Council to reverse its earlier votes and oppose the completion of the highway. The future of the highway at this writing is still in doubt for a variety of reasons: the national energy issue, a revised federal domestic policy which opposes suburban development at the expense of the central city, rising road construction costs and civil rights issues. At issue is a 2.1 mile westward expressway extension which would complete a crosstown highway first begun in 1966. The case for completing the expressway is local traffic congestion in West Durham, and the embarassment of not finishing a project begun fifteen years ago. Finishing the road would also provide a convenient connection for through-city traffic on Interstate highways 85 and 40. However, completing the highway would require relocating 200 families in a low-income black neighborhood known as the Crest Street community, and might also damage the city's economy more than help it. This paper examines the values of Durham's businessmen (proponents of the extension) and the neighborhood alliance (opponents of the extension), highlighting their contrasting positions on numerous issues facing most American cities in the 1980s. The Durham expressway controversy is significant for at least three reasons. First, the timeframe of the conflict demonstrates the reaction of both sides to our energy problem. Second, the white-black coalition against the white business community introduces a political cleavage based on economic self-interest which could either replace or augment the perennial Southern racial cleavage. Third, North Carolina state officials have unequivocally supported the business developers' position. Unlike the situation of neighborhood groups during the Boston expressway conflict a decade ago, 2 Durham's neighborhood coalition found that its Democratic Governor and his Secretary of Transportation were unimpressed by arguments against the expressway, viewing the Coalition as "liberal" and therefore insignificant in a state dominated by conservatives. The battle between businessmen and neighborhood groups arose because of differing views on two questions: how the city of Durham can prosper in the next two decades; and how important the automobile is for the city's future. Detailed answers to these questions appear below and outline the value-systems of expressway proponents and opponents. The response by these two groups to the energy issue is also examined.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Article
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
Journal title
  • Carolina Planning Journal
Journal volume
  • 7
Journal issue
  • 1
Page start
  • 42
Page end
  • 48
  • English
Digital collection
  • Carolina Planning Journal
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