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DOT studies NC 137 bypass

GATESVILLE – If preliminary plans move forward, Gatesville may become the only small town in North Carolina with a population of 300 to have not one, but two bypasses.

At Monday night’s (March 16) meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners, County Manager Toby Chappell was expected to share information he has received from the North Carolina Department of Transportation in regards to possibly constructing a NC 137 bypass. That bypass is specifically designed to re-route heavy truck traffic.

Chappell, speaking to the Gates County Index on Monday morning, said DOT’s proposal was only in its infant stages.

“What we received is a preliminary draft of a feasibility study conducted by DOT,” Chappell said. “DOT is not sending anyone to the commissioners meeting on Monday night. I will present this information to the board so that they’ll have it on their radar screen as well as giving them a chance to discuss it further if they so choose.”

He continued, “(DOT’s) intention is to get the heavy truck traffic away from the heart of downtown,” Chappell said. “Specifically, it’s designed to help protect the old Gates County Courthouse. Years of heavy trucks rumbling by the old courthouse has resulted in structural damage.”

According to DOT’s preliminary plans, that truck traffic may bypass Court Street on one of two alternative routes, both beginning on the western edge of Gatesville. A brief description of those alternative routes are as follows:

#1 (Northern Bypass) 0.9 miles from the NC 137/Lewis Mill Road intersection to US 158 Business (East Maple St.). Estimated cost: $4.5 million ($1 million for right-of-way; $3.3 million for construction and $200,000 for utilities). There is one projected residential relocation on this proposal.

#2 (Southern Bypass) 1.4 miles from NC 137 just west of Lilley Lane to NC 37 (Main Street; south of the new DSS Building). Estimated cost: $7.6 million ($2.1 million for right-of-way; $5.3 million for construction and $200,000 for utilities.) There are four projected residential relocations on this proposal.

The feasibility study preferred Alternative #2.

Both alternatives are two-lane roads, with shoulders, on new locations. Project specifications call for both to be built on a 32-foot wide road bed with 12-foot wide travel lanes and four-foot paved shoulders. Each would require 100 feet of right-of-way.

“This is the initial step in the planning and design process for this project and is not the product of exhaustive environmental or design investigations,” the DOT report stated. “The purpose of this study is to describe the proposed project, including cost, and to identify potential problems that may require consideration in the planning and design phases.”

Although there was no detailed information regarding community issues included in the feasibility study, the report stated no impact to schools, parks, recreation areas or community facilities are anticipated in the project. However, Gatesville Elementary School is located near where Alternative #1 crosses Main Street.

As far as the amount of traffic currently using NC 137/Court Street, the report revealed an average of 3,500 to 4,000 vehicles per day. Truck traffic was estimated at 12 percent of that daily total.

In regards to protecting the old Gates County Courthouse, the report noted the structure, built in 1836, is one of a small number of ante-bellum courthouses remaining in the state. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is being restored by the Gates County Historical Society. It is currently houses the county’s public library and is also used as a cultural community center.