The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) was granted, during the 2010 legislative session, the authority to use $17 million in capital funds to purchase land and construct a railroad underpass leading to nowhere. The system-wide University of North Carolina budget in total for 2010-11 will be $170 million less than two years ago.
Currently, the campus of UNCG is bounded to the south by railroad tracks. The university hopes to expand its reach across those railroad tracks into the Glenwood neighborhood. The new southern boundary for the expanded campus would be West Lee St., which is one block south of the railroad tracks.
The university does own a few small parcels of land south of the railroad tracks in the Glenwood area where it plans to expand, yet none of the property has been developed for university use. Glenwood can currently be accessed from the university using two railroad crossings that are one-half mile apart.
While the expansion of the university may be assumed necessary, the railroad underpass ought to wait for a couple of reasons. First, the dreadful fiscal situation in which the state finds itself suggests that such unnecessary expenditures as a railroad underpass – where two others exist less than one-half mile apart – should be delayed. An item like the railroad underpass might be nice to have, but the costs of purchasing the property and construction do not outweigh the benefits of redirecting the funds to more important budget items such as university faculty retention and limiting tuition increases.
Furthermore, the university does not have the full approval of all Glenwood residents, meaning the issue of eminent domain could arise and a fight for property rights could ensue. Certainly the railroad underpass can wait until UNCG owns the property south of the railroad tracks. As it stands, the railroad underpass would allow students easier access to a neighborhood where there are no dormitories, laboratories or classrooms.
Without owning all of the properties necessary for expansion, how can the university ensure that all of the property owners in the area are willing to sell? According to Mike Byers, assistant vice chancellor for Auxiliary Services, the university and the Glenwood neighborhood have only reached a tentative agreement regarding the expansion. The absence of a formal agreement suggests that the university is nowhere near being assured the expansion will occur. It is a hasty decision to move forward with the $17 million underpass without assurance that expansion will happen. It very well may turn out that the $17 million is a waste.
Of course, wasting money would be nothing new for the General Assembly. This very same legislative body has spent your tax dollars on digging up old pirate ships, building teapot museums and funding cooking schools at private universities. Given the fiscal situation our state is in, the railroad underpass at UNCG should wait until campus expansion is a sure thing. As it stands, the university has $17 million to build an underpass to nowhere.
Dollars appropriated for the purpose of university expansion should have been diverted to a more appropriate use, such as holding down tuition increases, considering the budget gap that the General Assembly faced this year, which led to rather sizeable cuts to the UNC System as a whole.