Citizens see U.S. 158 options

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2007

AHOSKIE – A public hearing and open house brought a crowd out to Roanoke Chowan Community College (RCCC) on Thursday night.

They all came for the same reason, to see the proposed project to widen US 158 to four lanes from the Murfreesboro Bypass to US 13 in Winton.

Opinions varied on the project, from complete discontent to support for the widening of the existing road, which according to North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) will provide a connection between I-95 to the Northeast region, support economic growth and ensure future safety. US 158 is also a major hurricane evacuation route.

During an open house, held before the public hearing, representatives from DOT spoke with citizens one-on-one and answered their questions.

Large maps of the eight mile project lined a hallway outside of RCCC’s auditorium.

Among the maps, three alternatives (A, B and C) of the proposed project were shown as well as a Mapleton Service Option, which would move the proposed US 158 away from the Mapleton community and reduce the impact on the community and number of driveways leading onto the road.

The Mapleton Service Option is being considered by DOT in addition to the three alternatives.

According to DOT, Alternative A of the proposed project would expand the current roadway to four lanes with grass medians and two new bridges over Potecasi Creek. This option would follow the current shape of the road.

As far as impacts to communities, the alternative would potentially require 37 residential relocations, one historic property, one archaeological site and one cemetery.

In total the project would cost $35 million, a combined total in construction and right-of-way costs.

The Mapleton Option with this alternative would reduce the number of relocations to 22.

Alternative B would add all described in the Alternative A plan. In addition a section of the road to the north would straighten the sharp curve in front of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church and reduce the impact on the church.

However, this alternative could potentially involve 38 residential relocations, one archeological site and no historic properties or cemeteries.

The project with combined construction and right-of-way costs would total $36 million.

With this alternative along with the Mapleton Option, 23 residences would be affected.

Alternative C could widen the roadway, remove the existing Potecasi Creek Bridge and replace it with two new bridges to the south and straighten the curve in front of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church by adding a section to the south the of the church, reducing the impact on the church.

This alternative would potentially affect 34 residences and one archeological site. No historical sites and cemeteries would be impacted.

The project with this alternative would cost $37 million with combined construction and right-of-way costs.

Only 19 residences could potentially be affected if the Mapleton Option was added along this alternative.

Each of the alternatives would impact low income and minority populations without the Mapleton Service Option.

DOT Senior Public Involvement Officer Kimberly D. Hinton said the William H. Kiff House and Britt Store would be the historic structures possibly affected by the project and the Mt. Tabor Baptist Church graveyard would be the cemetery impacted.

Hinton added construction of the proposed project would not start until 2012.

Pamphlets were also distributed to the crowd concerning right-of-way acquisitions and relocation assistance for those who could be displaced.

Harold Gatling stopped by during the open house to see how his property would be affected by the proposed project.

“I’m just here to see how much of my land they’re going to take,” he said, pointing to one of the maps.

Gatling expressed discontent about the project.

“Why do they need four lanes running to Murfreesboro?” he said. “If you drive the (Murfreesboro) by-pass now and you only see three cars…it seems like they’re wasting money.”

Supporters of Alternative C came forward during a public hearing held in the college’s auditorium.

Robert Harrell of Ahoskie and his mother, June, who lives near Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, expressed their desire for DOT to choose Alternative C.

“‘A’ is not a safe alternative,” said Robert.

He noted he grew up in the area and saw several accidents on the curve near Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, which Alternative A keeps intact.

Robert also said he would be worried about his parents quality of life if Alternatives A or B went through. He also said he owns land near his parents’ property and it would be affected by Alternative B.

“You would buy almost half of my property,” he said.

Robert also stated there was only one property owner affected by Alternative C and that owner is willing to sell.

June also expressed worry for her property with Alternative B.

“Even though it wouldn’t take the house but a lot of our property,” she said.

June also asked the state to consider Alternative C.

“I know you’re worried about the environment, but you’ve got to think about the families,” she said.

Jerry Dickson of Murfreesboro was concerned about the Mapleton Option.

Dickson said he had just inherited property in the area and would loose 130 feet of that property and it would “split the farm wide open.”

After the meeting Ella Badham of Mapleton said she would prefer to see the Mapleton Option because of all the extended families who live in the area.

Badham noted older people also live in the area and she wished DOT would take that into account if they had to be relocated.

Badham said DOT staff was “very informative” during the open house.

“I would like to know as soon as possible if (the project will go through),” she said.

Willis Jamison, who lives on US 158, said the project was definitely needed to reduce the risk of accidents, not to mention encourage economic growth.

“I don’t want to stand in the way of growth,” he said.

According to Hinton, the comment period is open until August 20. After the comment period ends, a post-hearing meeting is planned for the project to be reviewed by those who will play a role in the project development.