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Conway citizens study US 158 project

CONWAY – While construction of the US 158 improvement project through the heart of Northampton County will not begin until after 2015, the time to start selecting a preferred route is now.

Such was the case here Tuesday night at Conway Middle School where a crowd of approximately 75 individuals sat through a near two-hour public hearing on the planned project whose price tag could reach as high as $292 million.

The majority of the crowd hailed from the Conway area, each curious to see how the four alternate routes the improved road will take around their town.

The entire project traverses the county from the I-95/NC 46 interchange between Garysburg and Gaston to the Murfreesboro Bypass. It will improve US 158 to a four-lane, median divided roadway. Those improvements will be on the existing US 158 along some stretches of the project while a new roadway will be built in other sections. The project also includes bypasses of Garysburg, Jackson, Faison’s Old Tavern and Conway.

On Tuesday night, it was the Conway portion of the project that took center stage. Local citizens first gazed at a variety of large, detailed project maps and had the opportunity to speak individually with NCDOT officials in attendance. That was followed by the public hearing.

Conway Mayor Brian Bolton said he sees the positives and the negatives the project will have on his small town.

“It will be good from a standpoint that it takes all the heavy truck traffic off our streets, thus lowering our street maintenance costs, particularly with having to fix broken water lines during the winter months,” Bolton told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald prior to the public hearing.

He continued, “The southern (bypass) alternative route would be good for the GP (Georgia-Pacific) Resins plant, especially for their outgoing and incoming truck traffic.

“On the other side of the issue, a bypass of Conway takes traffic away from our businesses, mainly the Red Apple (convenience store) and the restaurant,” the Mayor added. “To come to Conway, you’d have to have a reason to be here.”

Bolton said the bypass, either north or south of Conway, would deter any fast food restaurant chain from locating in town, but they could opt to build on the bypass.

Several Conway citizens spoke during the public hearing.

“We are a rural farming community; we don’t like to lose our farms,” Joe Barrett said. “We know we’ll be paid fair market value for that land, but that doesn’t take into consideration the income we could make off that land over a long period of time.”

Kelly Vann also addressed the loss of valuable farmland.

“There’s not any of the alternative routes that doesn’t affect farms I own or work,” Vann noted. “But I look at this from a much broader perspective. I don’t mind losing some of my land to save people’s homes. Please, DOT, find a way to impact as few homes as you can.”

Vann also mentioned that he serves as President of the Northampton County affiliate of North Carolina Farm Bureau, saying that organization always wants what’s best for their members.

Another landowner, Bobby Bridgers, said he owns four to five farms that will be impacted. He noted the northern bypass alternative affects the least number of homes….“I hope that will be taken into consideration.”

Dwayne Murphy encouraged DOT officials to “not mess with the existing US 158.”

“Buying out a home is one thing, but you can’t buy memories of family land handed down from generation to generation,” Murphy stated. “Some of these good folks here have had relatives who were here long before there was a North Carolina.”

Mayor Bolton also spoke during the public hearing, saying that while he sees the southern (bypass) route as the most economically feasible, he’s not opposed to the northern route.

“Either one has the opportunity to open up more development,” Bolton noted. “The town is willing to accept whatever happens, but to our friends and neighbors who live just outside of town, we want what’s best for you. We want to see the least number of homes affected.”

Bolton also asked if DOT officials could leave copies of the large maps with him so they could be displayed at Conway Town Hall.

John Parker, who lives on the eastern end of the project near the Murfreesboro Bypass, said he, his family and neighbors have been through US 158 improvement projects before and have lost property and structures in the process.

The Conway portion of the project ties in, from the west, with the Faison’s Old Tavern plans. There are four planned routes around Conway, two to the north and a pair to the south. Those plans are as follows:

Northern Bypass 1: 7.8 miles at $82.9 million (construction and right-of-way costs). Affected sites include one school, one church, five historic properties, 19 homes and one business.

Northern Bypass 2: 7.8 miles at $73.95 million. Affected sites include one school, one cemetery, six historic properties, 15 homes and one business.

Southern Bypass 1: 8.8 miles at $70.8 million. Affected sites include five historic properties and 22 homes.

Southern Bypass 2: 8.0 miles at $74 million. Affected sites include five historic properties, 15 homes and one business.

Each alternative has a “higher concern” listing of farmland conversion.

As noted by DOT Public Hearing Officer Ed Lewis, one access per property will be allowed on improved portions of the existing US 158 roadway. If that property exceeds 2,000 feet of road frontage, additional access points may be allowed.

However, for new locations of the road access will be limited to interchanges. In Conway’s case, the only interchange will be where the bypass crosses NC 35. There the interchange will be of a “half cloverleaf” design, meaning exit and entrance ramps will be located on the same side.

Meanwhile, vehicles approaching improved portions of the existing US 158 route from adjoining roads will see a new traffic pattern – a Super Street. Lewis explained that a Super Street is designed to allow access to a four-lane road in a totally different way, one where drivers can access only two lanes at the time. That means vehicles cannot keep straight across a crossroads intersection or make an immediate left-hand turn (after crossing the first two lanes). In order to keep straight or turn left, a driver must first turn right, travel a short distance and then make a u-tirn to access the opposite two lanes. From there they can either keep straight or turn right at the intersection they were previously located at to access the other side of the crossroads.

Those wishing to add their written comments to the project can do so by mailing them to Ed Lewis, NCDOT Human Environment Unit, 1583 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1583. He can also be contacted by e-mail at elewis@ncdot.gov. Be sure to reference TIP Project No. R-2582/R-2584. All comments are due by Oct. 31.