Bypass sparks different opinions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 30, 2008

WINDSOR – Two separate parties came before the Bertie County Commissioners here Monday night to present their side of the US 13 Ahoskie Bypass issue.

The crowded boardroom was filled with people making up the group called the Citizens Against the Ahoskie Bypass.

Since the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) announced details last November of its plan for a bypass of Ahoskie, citizens in Hertford County and part of Bertie County have become outraged at the thought of losing so many homes and businesses.

The group’s co-founders, Kent Williams and Garry Terry, addressed the board first.

Williams began by reciting the First Amendment.

&uot;We have the freedom of speech, the freedom to hold meetings, and we are free to go before our government to express grievances and that’s what we’re here for tonight,&uot; he noted.

For the record, the group wants the DOT to remove projects R-2205 (to widen, to multi lanes, US 13 from NC 42 at Powellsville to US 158 at Winton with a bypass of Ahoskie) and R-2506 (to widen, to multi lanes, US 13 north of Windsor to NC 42 at Powellsville) from the Transportation Improvement Plan. In lieu of those projects, the group wants DOT to widen, to multi lanes, US 13 from US 158 at Winton to NC 11 as well as NC 11 south to Bethel.

During Monday night’s meeting, Williams told the board, &uot;It was previously stated that we have been misinforming the public, but I’m here to tell you that ‘misinformation’ is not exactly correct. It’s DOT facts.&uot;

While holding a copy of the Bertie Ledger Advance, he continued, &uot;The newspaper stated the bypass is ‘slightly’ into Bertie County, but it’s really three miles.&uot;

He later clarified for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald during a phone interview, &uot;There’s nothing ‘slight’ about three miles of highway.&uot;

Monday night, Williams also stated, &uot;The (same) paper also says it’s (Hwy. 11) not affected, but a (DOT) brochure says otherwise – Highway 11 is affected also.&uot;

Later, he further explained, &uot;They’re talking about utilizing four miles of Highway 11 if they use the alternates that put in the cloverleaf at the ’11 and 11′ intersection. That’s ‘being affected’ plenty to me.&uot;

Williams further expressed concerns to the board over the safety of freeways versus expressways, using the US 17 Bypass of Windsor currently under construction as an example.

He showed a DOT map of the Windsor bypass, with the road-design speed limits outlined.

Apparently, the stretch that will upgrade the currently existing four-lane in front of Bill Clough Ford and continuing down to Food Lion is designed as a 60 mph zone.

The rest of the bypass as it leaves town is designed at 70 mph.

Additionally, there are two stoplights along the route.

According to DOT road count stats he presented to the board, as many as 13,000-14,000 cars pass through the Town of Windsor each day.

However, traffic thins out to as low as 3,000 further north on US 13 five miles north of Windsor.

&uot;The closer you get to town, the more vehicles there are,&uot; Williams said.

He continued, &uot;Things have changed from what it was 30 years ago; it (the bypass) is not going to take the traffic out of Windsor.&uot;

Instead, Williams believes it will put more traffic on the other side of Windsor at the site of the stoplights and cause a potential traffic hazard.

&uot;If you get all those people traveling that highway at 60 or 70 miles per hour and put in a stoplight, you’re creating one of the worst traffic inter in northeastern North Carolina,&uot; Williams warned.

He added, &uot;In Ahoskie, we’re being asked to do the same thing… we’ve got a dangerous situation (at ’11 and 11′) and we’re being asked to be put in an even more dangerous situation.&uot;

&uot;This road that we propose on (widening) Highway 11 gives Bertie County two times the four-lane road,&uot; Williams finished.

Terry also chipped in his concerns for if the bypass goes through.

&uot;There will be a lot of homes destroyed and lives disrupted. We’re opposed to tearing down homes and destroying farms,&uot; he said.

He added, &uot;The information we’ve presented is factual and accurate.&uot;

Chairman of the Commissioners Norman Cherry thanked the two for their concerns.

&uot;I appreciate you presenting this information to us; we will take it home and study it,&uot; he promised.

Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey then presented the opposite viewpoint, countermanding many of the things said by Williams.

Spivey has historically stood by his belief that the Ahoskie bypass would be beneficial for not only Windsor, but for all of northeastern North Carolina.

He reminded the board that the proposed Ahoskie bypass had been on the state TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan) for over 50 years.

&uot;The master plan has been in place for over 50 years,&uot; he stated.

Spivey continued, &uot;All the towns except Ahoskie have been bypassed, and what happened was what was projected to happen, it created an infrastructure for economic development.&uot;

He corrected Williams’ statement that the inter along the new Windsor bypass would be dangerous due to the speed as well as his traffic concerns.

&uot;When it comes into town, it will be 45 miles per hour, not 60. Also, its purpose is to further economic development, not improve traffic congestion,&uot; Spivey stated.

Regarding the proposed Ahoskie bypass, he continued, &uot;There are 34,000 homes estimated to be built on 17 East in the next 10 years, most of them in Bertie County.&uot;

&uot;I’ve got nothing against Ahoskie but there is a bottleneck there… nine traffic lights within four miles,&uot; Spivey said.

Additionally, Spivey reports that Windsor businesses have grown since construction began on the new US 17 bypass.

&uot;Bojangles will begin construction soon and we have several other prospects for businesses looking at the area as well,&uot; he stated. &uot;That’s because of 13 and 17,&uot;

Spivey continued, &uot;All my adult life, I have worked to bring jobs and economic development to this area. We talk so much about our children don’t have anywhere to go, they leave when they grow up and they don’t have a workforce… this road brings the opportunity for the young people to work and stay here.&uot;

He also expressed sympathy for those who may lose their homes along the proposed Ahoskie bypass.

&uot;If you look at history, DOT has certainly been fair… everybody in this room has sympathy for anyone whose home or anything might be affected,&uot; Spivey stated.

He added, &uot;All of us are looking at what we think is best for people but I think right will prevail.&uot;

During the second public comments portion at the end of the meeting, Terry pointed out, &uot;There is a saying, ‘If you build it they will come,’ but the Randy Parton Theatre (now the Roanoke Rapids Theatre) is a prime example of how that is not always the case.&uot;

Spivey also remarked during public comment, &uot;When we leave here tonight we are going to drive or ride on what used to be somebody’s property. Sacrifices have to me made, that’s the way of progress.&uot;

Other members of the anti-bypass group also made their voices heard during the session.

Kendred Williams of Powellsville expressed concern over how school buses would get in and out if the bypass ended in his town.

He also told the commissioners that his Civil War-era house was right in the way of the proposed project.

&uot;They’re wanting to put the overpass over my roof; please put it somewhere else,&uot; he said.

Cecil Holloman Jr., who lives two miles outside of Powellsville, remarked, &uot;I live on a farm over 100 years old. I’m asking the commissioners to rename 11 into US 13 Alternate.&uot;

Debbie Spalding, who lives along proposed route #12 of the bypass, also pleaded her case.

&uot;I’m originally from Virginia Beach and I saw tourism destroy that beautiful town. I used to ride horses there and now there’s nothing but billboards and big signs saying what you can’t do – that’s what tourism does.&uot;

Spalding told the board how she and her husband purchased his family’s old homeplace and put all their resources into it.

&uot;And now it’s going to be destroyed… now I know what highway robbery is,&uot; Spalding added.

After everyone’s remarks, Cherry again thanked the people for coming.

The Bertie County Commissioners have gone on record in the past to say they supported both projects (the US 13 Ahoskie bypass and the widening of NC 11 into a four-lane), but not at the expense of either one for the other.