Routing of U.S. 1 Bypass at Issue
BY TOM EMBREY
AND TED M. NATT JR.
Of The Pilot Staff
Southern Pines Town Council member Fred Walden says he remembers when Horse Country residents lobbied local and state politicians in the 1950s to get a new route for U.S. 1 cut through the middle of town instead of their land.
"The politicians at that time convinced the state to divide Southern Pines," Walden says. "We've been having access problems between east and west ever since, because the only links between the two are the overpasses at Morganton Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. There used to be more cross-streets."
The more things change, the more they apparently stay the same.
The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has targeted Horse Country for a new U.S. 1 bypass, an 11-mile stretch of four-lane highway that would start north of Southern Pines and reconnect south of Aberdeen. The proposed route drew the ire of residents when it was unveiled in 2002, and nothing has changed in the interim.
Walden represents the town on the Moore County Transportation Committee, or MCTC. He says that "every time it [the bypass idea] comes up, -people in Horse Country lobby the politicians to prevent it from going through there."
The proposed bypass likely would go through the Walthour Moss Foundation, a 4,200-acre nature preserve in Horse Country that is home to large stands of longleaf pines as well as numerous endangered plants and wildlife.
Supporters of the foundation, which was created in 1974, say they are concerned that a highway bypass would cause economic and environmental damage - though members of the foundation's leadership differ with Walden's recollection of the nature of past struggles over routing.
Richard "Dick" Moore, president of the foundation board, says his organization supports finding a way to meet the future needs of the county as far as U.S. 1 is concerned, but its supporters think there is a better answer than a bypass.
"A freeway going through a nature preserve and going through rural horse country is devastating and totally incompatible," Moore says.
Other Projects Included
This time, there are four other major road projects in Moore County that will be included in a Comprehen-7sive Transportation Plan (CTP) being developed for the county that will reflect the priorities of residents and elected officials.
The other projects include improvements to N.C. 24/27 and the N.C. 211 Bypass/Western Connection. According to NCDOT, the need for these projects is to ease heavy traffic congestion along, N.C. 2, N.C. 5, U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501.
"Moore County's transportation infrastructure is vital in supporting continued growth, the public's well-being and safety, economic development and statewide mobility," says Frances Bisby, a transportation engineer for NCDOT who is spearheading the agency's public outreach initiative for the CTP.
Transportation Secretary Gene Conti says heavy vehicle use along U.S. 1 and other roads is severely crippling traffic and posing potential threats to motorists.
"Some of the transportation needs the county faces may require new or different routing of existing roads to protect community resources," Conti says.
But he stressed that the final plan would be the county's, not the DOT's.
"This is your plan," he says. "I can't stress that enough."
Moore says he and others are committed to preserving the foundation, and they are hopeful they can offer a viable solution to a bypass.
"What we've tried to do, rather than be an opposition, we've tried to be part of the solution and say what is the best way to do it," Moore says.
Other Options Explored
To identify possible alternatives to a bypass, the foundation has engaged Martin Alexiou Bryson, a Raleigh-based transportation firm that regularly works closely with NCDOT.
"What we've found," Moore says, "is that there are ways of upgrading the existing U.S. 1 to make it a freeway that would meet the criteria of the DOT that are far less expensive than a huge bypass going around, that would offer an opportunity for improvement and reinvestment rather than destruction of a very valuable asset."
Moore says a detailed plan is still being completed. He says it is being shown to stakeholders for their input and then being revised with the goal of presenting a completed plan to the DOT during the "charrettes" - or public workshops - scheduled throughout Moore County during the first week of November.
"Everything culminates with the charrettes - that's election date, that is when people get to vote," Moore says.
Prior to the charrettes, the foundation says it plans to hold two informational meetings at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 18 and 25 at the Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines.
Moore hopes that with public input, the bypass can again be put aside, this time in favor of a better option.
"For the town (Southern Pines) and the county, it would be an absolute disaster to see this (Moss Foundation and Horse Country) destroyed - especially when I don't think it has to be," he says. "I think there are other ways to do it, and we all have to work together to find a better solution."
NCDOT is working with the MCTC, the Moore County Planning and Community Development Department and the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization. They will host the charrettes.
"Our job is to make sure everyone has the same -information and opportunity to speak out before we start the CTP," Bisby says. "People need to voice their opinions and tell us their -priorities. It's not about one stakeholder. Everyone needs to stand up and be counted."
'A Chance to Participate'
Moore County Commissio-ner Jimmy Melton, who chairs the MCTC, calls the planning process one of the most important to occur in the county "in quite some time."
"This will affect us for the next 30 or 40 years," Melton says. "If we don't do it ourselves, the state and federal governments will do it for us. We need to protect those areas where the roads are going to go from development. We've got to do it this time."
Melton believes that one of the main goals should be to upgrade the county's existing roads wherever possible.
"So we don't have to cut new roads through farmland and our countryside," he says. "I want to preserve the way Moore County looks now."
To help residents and elected officials better understand the transportation planning process, NCDOT says it intends to utilize "Strings and Ribbons" for the first time during the charrettes Strings and Ribbons is a consensus-building exercise used to teach citizens about needs, constraints, priorities and funding flexibility.
The name comes from the materials used in playing the game/exercise. It includes ribbons for roads, string for sidewalks, and paper cutouts for buses and other modes of transportation.
"It kind of works almost like Monopoly. It's the same process we go through in the planning process," Bisby says. "The results of each table at the charrettes in Moore County will be scanned and put into a -database. The data will be included in a report that will be presented to the MCTC."
Each table will get a map of the county, scissors, glue, and "money" to spend for transportation improvements.
Players soon become aware that there are many transportation needs and not enough money.
Right now, DOT has more than $50 billion in transportation needs across North Carolina and only about $10 billion in the budget, Bisby says.
"This is a chance for the public to participate in the decision-making process," she says, "and to help determine how to improve its roads for current and future growth."
More like this story