County OK's Small-Area Road Plans
The Needmore community, the western connector and sidewalks along a widened N.C. 211 were sticking points during a public hearing Monday night on a proposed state Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).
After a public hearing and discussion lasting almost two hours, the Moore County Board of Commissioners finally approved an amended TIP, but not unanimously.
Earlier in the meeting, they gave speedy and unanimous approval to an amended Small Area A Plan, which is expected to serve as a prototype for other small areas and for the countywide land use plan.
"Every night I go to bed and have to think about 18-wheelers running through my bedroom," said Jerry A. Dowdy, who raised objections to proposed Carthage bypass routes that would displace Needmore property.
O'Linda W. Gillis, president of the Moore County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a spokesperson for Needmore residents, shared her frustration in trying to communicate with the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) about the bypass route.
The bypass, long in the planning stages, would direct N.C. 24-27 around Carthage. While one southern route was originally established, NCDOT is now considering five routes -- three to the north and two to the south. Two of the northern routes would affect the Needmore community, where a Habitat for Humanity project would be disrupted.
Gillis was not the only frustrated person.
Some of the commissioners expressed similar concern about this and other issues involving the county's transportation needs.
Commissioner Larry Caddell was mayor of Carthage several years ago when NCDOT came to the Carthage Town Board with a proposal for a southern bypass route. He said the route met with town approval but said he was confused as to why five routes are now under consideration.
In a previous resolution, the county commissioners asked NCDOT not to carry out any route that would affect Needmore.
"I'm kind of curious," Caddell said. "We didn't go to you. You came to us. This is what I'm confused about. Why did you bring it to us if you hadn't done your homework?"
Commissioner Jimmy Melton, who chaired an ad hoc committee named to coordinate transportation plans for the county and affected municipalities, tried to clear up some issues, including confusion about another proposed route, this one a minimal bypass of Pinehurst largely using existing roads.
Melton said work has been under way on the western connector for a number of years. He said the village of Pinehurst hired a consultant to work out a suitable route with NCDOT.
A proposal for an N.C. 211 bypass of Pinehurst has been dropped, and in its place is the so-called western connector, which would direct traffic from N.C. 211 along existing state roads to reconnect with N.C. 5 and also with U.S. 15-501 at Aberdeen and away from Pinehurst.
However, a new stretch of road, two and a half miles in length, would be needed to skirt Pinewild and a newly proposed nearby development. The new path would go through wooded and farming areas.
Melton recalled visiting the area and traveling along those roads to determine the most practical route for the connector. This investigation was carried out with NCDOT and village officials along with committee members and the county planning staff. Earl Ingram, a resident of the Lake Diamond community, was among them.
"Mr. Ingram probably came up with the most sensible route, using existing roads," Melton said. "We felt that this was the best alternative."
As for Needmore, Melton said he met with NCDOT officials, planning staff members and Carthage officials about the Carthage bypass route and recalled that everyone agreed on a southern route. The late W.C. Walton was mayor of Carthage at that time.
"We all agreed on a southern route," Melton said. "We were strictly opposed to anything going north. We thought that was the end of it."
A proposal to add sidewalks along N.C. 211 as part of the widening project also raised questions.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan said she travels that highway frequently and has yet to see any children walking along that road. With the economy sluggish and money scarce for road projects, she wondered why NCDOT wants to spend money on a sidewalk in a rural area.
'Concerns Are Valid'
Commissioner Tim Lea observed that Moore County "doesn't seem to be going in the direction DOT wants us to take."
If local opinions don't matter to state highway officials, then why ask counties to go through the long process of discussing road issues and coming up with recommendations and requests, Lea wanted to know.
"If this is the approach of DOT, just tell us, and we won't go through the process of spending thousands of hours discussing what we want," he said. "You can talk an issue to death and not say anything."
Pat Strong, director of the Rural Planning Organization (RPO) that includes Moore County, said the commissioners were making good points, but NCDOT policy requires local input. The RPO, a division of the Triangle J Council of Governments, studies transportation issues and passes on local requests to NCDOT.
"Your concerns are valid," Strong said.
Strong mentioned some disagreement about an action taken by Pinehurst officials earlier in the day and a decision previously reached by the ad hoc committee.
As for the Carthage bypass, Strong said five routes (alignments) are still under consideration and a decision has not been made.
"I assure you that the right decision will be made," Strong said.
He added that NCDOT is taking into consideration all social, economic and environmental issues.
Several persons spoke during the public hearing held before the commissioners took their vote. Gillis and Dowdy were the first speakers.
Earl Ingram expressed opposition to any western connector that requires a new road and said there are sufficient existing roads to take motorists away from Pinehurst. He cited six roads that could be used to divert traffic away from Pinehurst without building a new road that would cause "needless destruction of our forest and have an adverse impact on families."
Ingram said traffic could be easily diverted along these roads with changes in signage by NCDOT.
"This would be a better course of action than a western connector," Ingram said.
He added that the western connector would be wasting money that could be put to better use elsewhere.
David "Mike" Wilson agreed with Ingram and called attention to the Small Area A Plan committee's request for no new roads in the area. Wilson is a member of the committee.
"Hoffman Road is already a bypass," Wilson said. "If you don't believe me, come sit on my front porch for awhile."
Board Split on TIP
County Planning Director Joey Raczkowski presented the TIP proposal and also introduced Strong and Mike Stanley, area representative for NCDOT.
Raczkowski said the proposed plan is little different from a previous TIP and a major change is the addition of a BRAC project. BRAC (the base realignment program) is expected to have a significant impact on road networks between Moore County and the Fort Bragg reservation.
At the close of the hearing and their discussion, Melton made a motion to adopt the resolution with the revisions recommended by Raczkowski. His motion was placed on hold when Lea made a motion for an amended resolution deleting the items calling for right of way acquisition for the western and southern connectors.
The TIP includes right-of-way acquisition to begin in the 2011 fiscal year for the western connector and to begin in the 2013 fiscal year for the southern connector. The southern connector would take motorists from N.C. 5 to U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501 around Aberdeen.
Lea's motion failed when no one voted with him except Morgan.
Melton's motion then passed, again on a 3-2 vote with Lea and Morgan casting the dissenting votes.
NCDOT updates the TIP for each county every other year, and the plan approved Monday night is little changed from the last one, with the major exception of the BRAC additions.
Three items on the plan are advanced to construction status in the 2009 fiscal year -- the widening of N.C. 24-27 through Carthage from west of N.C. 22 to U.S. 15-501; Morganton Road-U.S. 1 interchange improvements; and widening of N.C. 211 from West End to the Pinehurst Traffic Circle.
Area A Plan Approved
By contrast, the public hearing on the Small Area A Plan was brief, with only one person speaking, Ingram, who gave wholehearted support to the plan.
"It's a step forward in the right direction," Ingram said.
Raczkowski reviewed the revisions and said that the plan would be incorporated into the planning department's work plan. He said that the Area A committee would be asked to remain involved through implementation of the plan.
Lea made the motion for approval, Morgan the second, and approval was unanimous.
Area A encompasses West End, Seven Lakes, Eagle Springs, Jackson Springs, Lake Diamond and their rural environs.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at florence @thepilot.com.
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