HAMLET — Long Drive has lived up to its name all too well for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, but many Rockingham residents are concerned that they will be asked to give up pieces of their land in exchange for an improved route to the city’s commercial areas along U.S. 74 Business (East Broad Avenue).
The DOT hosted community members at the Cole Auditorium on Tuesday to share information about the department’s plans to alleviate congestion along South Long Drive and Richmond Road.
The road is currently the main connector between businesses on East Broad Avenue and the residential areas in northeast Rockingham and travel on the road is reduced to a crawl during rush hour. The DOT has identified six options to solve this issue, five of which involve the construction of new stretches of road. The sixth is to widen South Long Drive.
The various options under consideration would affect between 100 and 261 parcels of land, and could potentially result in anywhere from 14 to 42 landowner relocations.
The news of a new road came as a shock to many, worried that it was too late to change the minds of state officials. Joseph Miller, planning engineer for the project, said that the biggest challenge in completing a project like this is convincing community members that their opinion matters.
“I’ve had a few people say that they think that the decision has already been made and it doesn’t matter what they think,” Miller said. “They think we’re just kind of going through the motions and we already know what we want — no we don’t.”
The five potential new roads would stretch from the intersection of Old Aberdeen Road and Fayetteville Road down to East Broad Avenue, the only difference being the path the road takes to get there. In the path of these roads are several homes that have been with families for generations, as well as major wetlands.
Ellen McNeill said she hopes the DOT chooses “alternative 2,” which uses the most existing roads of the five, and is the furthest from her family’s property at 662 E. Washington St. and in the surrounding area. Hers, her daughter’s and her grandmother’s houses are potentially in the path of the new roads.
“I feel like they’ll negotiate with you and you would probably get a good value for your land — that doesn’t bother me,” McNeill said. “It’s just this was my family’s homeland and I don’t want to be done away with…it’s personal to me.”
Jay McInnis, the project manager for the DOT, said that even though the current planning map shows large areas being covered by the roads, these only represent the “study corridors” that surveyors will consider before construction beings. The final road would only use a third of the land covered by the study corridors.
“DOT will send somebody out to talk to the property owners, they’ll do an appraisal of the property and they’ll offer them fair market value for the property,” McInnis said of how the department will handle conflicts with homeowners.
The DOT plans to have made its final decision on the project by winter of 2018, and complete final design plans by winter of 2020. Construction would begin in 2021.
The state allocated $6.6 million for the project, according to the 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Plan.
The DOT is accepting public comment until Oct. 13.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.