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Bypass compromise sought

AHOSKIE – Is there a compromise to the hotly debated US 13 Ahoskie Bypass issue?

Maybe.

On the heels of a 90-minute gathering here Tuesday evening, those attending the Citizens Against the Ahoskie Bypass monthly meeting gave their collective nod of approval for its leadership to move forward with an idea to lobby local and state officials to look at a new route.

In a majority show of hands, the group approved a measure that adds a longer stretch of NC 11 and NC 305 to the planned loop around Ahoskie. Currently, of the five alternate bypass routes the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) has under study, none include NC 305.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kent Williams, co-founder of the Citizens Against the Ahoskie Bypass, attempted to ease the fears of those in attendance that now live along NC 305 between Aulander and Windsor.

“I would not and could not pass along what I stand to lose if the bypass comes as planned on to someone else,” Williams said. “My feet are firmly planted on this….I will stand with you and find a route that will not affect one home, one church or one cemetery.”

Williams said he and fellow group co-founder Garry Terry have closely studied local maps over the past few months in an effort to find a route that affected no one. The men think they have found an answer.

“I know we went into this with our minds set on convincing DOT to improve highway 11 from here to Bethel instead of building the Ahoskie Bypass,” Williams stressed. “As much as it hurts me to say this, but I strongly believe we have come to the point of compromise.”

Pointing to a map, enlarged on a screen, Williams laid out the compromise. He said the northern end of the DOT’s version of the bypass could remain intact….starting at the US 13/US 158 intersection at Winton and following US 13 south to NC 11. But instead of starting the Ahoskie loop, as currently mapped, at either the NC 11/NC 561 intersection or a bit further south at NC 11/NC 42, Williams said NC 11 could be widen, using existing right-of-way, to NC 305 at Aulander. There, US 13 would turn and head south towards Windsor, basically along the current NC 305 route, before rejoining the present-day US 13 north of Bertie High School.

“Let me clear-up any confusion; I’m calling this the (highway) 305 route because we’ve got to call it something,” Williams noted. “What we want is not to widen the current 305, but let a new road be built through the woods behind all the existing homes and churches along that road. Our plan takes no homes or churches…not a single one.”

Williams said there was a power line, starting from the substation near Millennium, that runs through the woods all the way to Windsor. He suggested adding to the right-of-way of that power line and building a new road.

“The cost savings has to be looked at,” Williams said. “It’s got to be cheaper building a new road through a woods rather than the state having to buy current road front property and all those houses.”

Adding to the cost savings, according to Williams, is that three bridges would have to be built along any of DOT’s five current bypass alternatives. There are no bridges on NC 305 between Aulander and where the road rejoins US 13.

Terry said he had spoken to Bertie County officials about the idea.

“They want US 13 four-laned from Ahoskie to Windsor with a bypass of Ahoskie,” Terry said. “I don’t think they care what path that road takes to get there.”

Williams said for the new idea to be accepted, all parties involved would have to reach an agreement.

“Right now, the town of Ahoskie and Hertford County are opposed to the (DOT) plans,” Williams said. “The town of Windsor and Bertie County support that plan. We’re at a stalemate. Unless we come to an agreement, DOT will put this road where they want. I think that (highway) 305 is our best compromise.”

Those attending Tuesday’s meeting agreed, sending a message to Williams and Terry to approach Windsor officials and the Bertie Board of Commissioners with the compromise.

DOT’s current bypass plans calls for the $111 million project to have a Draft Environmental Impact Statement completed by July of next year on each of the five proposed routes around Ahoskie. A public hearing on that Impact Statement is scheduled for later in 2009 followed by DOT naming the preferred corridor by early 2010.

According to the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), right-of-way acquisition is scheduled for 2012.

State Highway Trust Fund money is available for the right-of-way acquisition, estimated at $8.85 million. However, the Trust Fund currently has no money available for constructing the bypass. That price tag is estimated at $102.4 million.

It is unclear if the NC 305 proposal will add or lower those overall costs or if it will delay the project.