Bypass Battle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 17, 2007

AHOSKIE – Opponents of the proposed US 13 Ahoskie Bypass feel their collective voice was heard here Tuesday.

Over 100 individuals attended a planned workshop hosted by the North Carolina Department of Transportation at Roanoke-Chowan Community College where information was shared concerning the bypass.

Judging by the number of people signing a “No Bypass” petition (at a table set-up by opponents of proposed road) as well as comments made to Jay McInnis, a Project Engineer with NCDOT, it was apparent that the majority of those in attendance were not in favor of any of the proposed seven bypass routes around Ahoskie.

“They (DOT) call this progress, but uprooting families and forcing them to leave their land is not progress in my opinion,” Garry Terry, one of the “No Bypass” organizers, said. “People will be forced from their homes to build a road that is not needed in the first place.”

While Terry was speaking with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, local property owners and other interested individuals gathered around huge aerial maps, each containing shaded areas showing the possible routes. Those affected by the routes were seen tracing their fingers to the exact location of their homes, businesses or farms.

The affected property owners directed a barrage of questions at McGinnis, ranging from why a bypass was needed to the buyout process of their property if the road is constructed. Some voiced concerns about the loss of retail trade within Ahoskie, most notably along Academy Street and Memorial Drive, if traffic bypasses the town.

What broadened the interest in this issue is the wide-ranging impact of seven potential bypass routes. Five of those routes run north-to-south on the east side of Ahoskie, impacting such communities as Little California, Brantley’s Grove, Brinkleyville, Hall’s Siding Road, Ahoskie-Cofield Road, Newsome Grove Road and the Harrellsville Highway (NC 561 East). All totaled, 344 homes and 30 businesses lie within the possible path of the bypass.

Meanwhile, two other alternate routes swing west of Ahoskie along a north-south corridor. Those routes would affect Poortown, NC 42 West, Johnny Mitchell Road, Jernigan Airport Road, Lee Jernigan Road and Williford Road. Combined, those routes would displace 79 homes and 17 businesses.

All of the possible routes will funnel into Powellsville. There, a third generation farmer, Kent Williams, is adamantly opposed to the bypass.

“The bypass will destroy my way of life as well as other farmers,” Williams said. “And for what….a road that isn’t needed. Many acres of prime farmland and sensitive wetlands will be lost forever. And what fields we have left will have a four-lane road going down the middle. That in itself will cause us major problems just trying to access our fields.”

Both Terry and Williams think they have a solution…NC 11. They say it’s the logical route for a bypass since it’s the quickest way to travel between the Virginia line southward to Greenville. Both pointed to the fact that the right-of-way, purchased 35 years ago, along NC 11 to the Roanoke River bridge included room for widening to four lanes.

“There would be no need to force people from their homes or for farmers to lose their land by using NC 11,” Terry said.

Terry went on to say that Perdue, located off NC 11 at Lewiston, is the largest employer in Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Marin counties. He said their trucks use NC 11 extensively. Terry added that due to the connection between Roanoke-Chowan Hospital and other local healthcare facilities and Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, a large number of medical patients are transported via NC 11.

“The most simple way to handle this is to let US 13 and NC 11 run together from Ahoskie to Bethel,” Williams noted.

But, according to McGinnis, it’s not quite that simple. He said the US 13 bypass was on the list of approved projects using North Carolina Highway Trust Fund money. He added that there was no Trust Fund money now approved for NC 11.

As far as changing the current route of US 13, McGinnis said public hearings would be necessary before that could become a reality.

When asked how the Ahoskie Bypass project was started, McGinnis said it was a collaboration of officials with Ahoskie, Hertford County and the RPO (Rural Planning Organization) that first approached DOT with the idea.

While the Ahoskie Town Council has passed a resolution supporting Alternative #12, McGinnis said DOT has not selected a preferred route. McGinnis added that input from Tuesday’s meeting will be taken back to Raleigh where it will be combined with all other data, including environmental assessment studies, to help determine the exact route of the bypass.

The $111.25 million project includes $8.85 million for right-of-way purchase. McGinnis said the right-of-way acquisition is scheduled for 2012. He added that the remaining $102.4 million for construction is currently unfunded in the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan. At the earliest, McGinnis said construction, once funded, would not begin until at least 2015.