Head of state highway commission builds highways
Faircloth remembers his advocacy for highway building as a member of Governor Terry Sanford's Highway Commission. He focused on Brunswick County, a poor area eventually enriched by its highways. Faircloth also remembers some other road-building projects and states' eagerness to build with plentiful federal assistance. Faircloth was basically running a dictatorship, he remembers, but he eventually returned to his businesses, which he had continued to operate as head of the Highway Commission.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Lauch Faircloth, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0069. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
LF: Everett Jordan was under Hodges, but that didn't have any effect. I was busy working in automobile dealerships, building concrete plants, and politics was an avocation of not a lot of interest. Anyway, in 1959 or, I guess it was '60, Sanford made the decision to run for governor. We started putting together and working a team and raising a little money and putting that together. I worked with him trying some fundraising and did generally what we needed to do. He won. He won, but I went on the Highway Commission.
JM: How ambitious were Sanford's Highway Commission plans for road building? How much attention was he giving to that issue -- Sanford as against, say, some other governor?
LF: A lot, but I don’t think at that time Sanford was aware of the--. I began to be aware of it during that time. We were just coming out of the mindset that economic development was railroad oriented. I don't think that we had really reached that point, but we were beginning to be aware that economic development was going [to occur] where the highways were. I began to push for a lot of things. One, I built the bridge across the Cape Fear River. That was my highway district. I built a world of roads into Brunswick County. Brunswick County and all the beaches today, of course, are considered just a mega-growth area. Well, when I went to Brunswick County on the Highway Commission in 1960 as the commissioner, I tried to work with some of the--. As a young man -- I was thirty-three -- I tried to work with the County Commissioners. Where would we build secondary roads?, is primarily what we were talking about. In Brunswick County at every Commission meeting was this man in a suit that sat over to one side of the somewhat bucolic commissioners. Everything that came up, they'd look at him. He would nod, “Yes you can do that,” or “No,” with a shake of his head. I was wondering and I asked them, “Who in the hell is that man?” He was the trustee for Wachovia Bank. Brunswick County had gone broke in the '20s. The county issued bonds they couldn't pay. The courts had appointed Wachovia Bank as the trustee for the county. They really had no authority to do anything, until the trustee approved it. So, you look at the beaches. You could've bought a mile of it for nothing. That was the county seat. The little courthouse was not as big as this house. It wasn't anything as big. It was a little strange. It's still there in Southport. Southport was the county seat. It was a very poor county. It shows you how things change. Today it's a very, very prosperous county because of the growth and the beach area. We're talking about roads for development. I built a lot of roads into Brunswick County. It was just a real backward county. I did a lot of work to beach roads in New Hanover County, also in Onslow and Pender. We began to see the road development. The interstate system was just beginning to be put together. North Carolina didn't take much of the interstate system and we were criticized for it during that Highway Commission. I'm not sure exactly, but the interstate system started under--.
JM: [It started under] Eisenhower.
LF: [It started under] Eisenhower in what? '55, '56? Some time in there. I might be wrong a little bit, but the original proposal was a predominant state pay [plan]. Eighty [percent] state [and] maybe twenty federal, I'm not sure of the exact figures. That was the thrust of it. It was a very, very expensive system -- very expensive. The states just simply--. In North Carolina -- except where they put in toll roads -- it just wasn't attractive. For the toll road through Richmond, I did the clearing. I helped do the clearing and grubbing on it. Ted Jordan and Ted Phillips out of Robbinsville, North Carolina--. By 1961, I think it was fifty/fifty. That was still an enormous drain on the revenues of states to jump in [and say] we're going to build all these interstates. The one in North Carolina, the first one and the most needed one--. Well, the absolute first one had nothing to do with need. It was where Mr. Hanes wanted it and that was through the middle of Winston-Salem, which is now I-40. That was the first one down there, and it had such a curve in it. It wasn't built to anything like interstate standards, but that's where he wanted it built. It had a forty-five mile an hour curve in it. Do you remember it?
JM: I sure do.
LF: Well, it's still there. I believe they're taking it out now. Of course, we bypassed Winston-Salem. I was through there not long ago, and I believe that they're taking that curve by the Medical Center now. That was the first little lick, but the first real venture into the worst road in the nation, beyond any question, was 301.  was the North/South thoroughfare. In many cases, it was just two lanes of highway and went through every little community there was. The first piece we built in North Carolina was from Kenly down to beyond Dunn. I think [out to] Godwin, Falcon, or somewhere down there. We picked it. That was the first lick of I-95. But, 301 was just an impossible road. Then we went on, and then the ratio began to change. You went from fifty-fifty to eighty federal. Then we went to ninety-ten. Of course, when it went to ninety-ten, everybody wanted interstates.
JM: It went ninety-ten in favor of the states? It swung ninety-ten, with the feds contributing ninety?
LF: Oh yeah. I think it started out something like the reverse of that. Now, everybody wanted interstates and we were trying to build them. Let's see, what moved on? Sanford went out. Dan Moore came in. I was chairman of that Dan Moore Highway Commission for a year, almost, because Scott didn't appoint his Commission. I became chairman in January. Joe Hunt was gone, and I became chairman. I worked with and became very, very good friends with -- and had already had been working with -- the Dan Moore Highway Commission. Then Scott appointed his Commission, so I ran the Highway Commission. Back in those days, it was pretty well a dictatorship. They didn’t have all these rules and regulations that they have today. It is just hard to imagine [how] things [worked], how they have changed so much. Nello Teer came to me sometime. It must have been '69, maybe '70. He was building a motel, and there was no way to get to it. We were trying to build I-40. His motel was finished or about to be finished. He wanted to know if I would go ahead and let the contractor build the bridge for Davis Drive so you could get from Durham to his motel. If you didn't, it was going to be isolated for a lot of months or a year or more, or whatever. So, I did. We went ahead and expedited the contract on Davis Drive. At one point, I thought about running I-40 through the Durham Freeway. We looked at it and had planned that. But then we got into--. Number one, that would've isolated Chapel Hill. They wanted to be isolated. They wanted I-40 way out of town. Some of them wanted it farther out than it was. But we couldn't run I-40 through the Durham Freeway because the interchanges had to be so close to service Durham, and we couldn't get an alignment. So, it went the other way. Then I came off the Highway Commission in '72, all the time running a business. I have said many, many times that politics is a nice avocation, but a damned poor vocation. I always was in business and ran my business. During this whole time we were expanding the timber holdings, the hog operation, and picking up some automobile dealerships along [the way].