At best, the North Carolina Department of Transportation was neglectful in its handling of road closures in the Marston community near Hoffman, as part of the U.S. 1 expansion project, which resulted in great improvements to the vital divided highway that serves as a northern gateway to Richmond County.
At its worst, the NCDOT was callous and uncaring in the way it shut off two access points to roads leading to the families who call the area home. They have been vocal in their opposition to the closures and worried about slower response times for emergency vehicles.
From what we’ve learned about the U.S. 1 project, the road closures were marked on maps but never discussed at meetings held by NCDOT officials on the project.
NCDOT closed the north sections of Marston and Stroman roads without considering the impact on the people who live nearby, nor did anyone discuss or debate the ramifications of the road closures.
To add insult to injury, at least one transportation department engineer told a property owner from that neighborhood that the road would not be closed. Imagine how he felt the first day he was driving to work and met a pile of dirt instead of his usual passage to access U.S. 1.
Concern about the closures was mentioned to county commissioners at a meeting in February, and it came up again at the county board’s meeting this past week.
“We don’t have a dog in this fight,” said County Manager Rick Sago, back in February. “The rail division has recommended closing the crossings because less than 100 cars go through there a day.”
Lewis Alsbrook of Marston represented the community to the board in February, and this week. Alsbrook said there was no notice or discussion by NCDOT of the roads being closed — on the contrary, Alsbrook said engineers told him the roads would stay open.
According to NCDOT Division Engineer Richard Hancock — also at Monday’s meeting — a public hearing was held in Raleigh before the project began, at which the plans for the road closings were included. However, officials were not aware of any opposition to the planned closures, he said.
“The closure was shown on the maps,” said Hancock. “We went back in our meeting minutes and there was no indication it (opposition to closure) was brought up or discussed. We moved on with final plans. We were not made aware of this issue during construction.”
Hancock insisted there is a paved road with which community members of that neighborhood can access their homes. He said NCDOT “had no documented concerns.”
“The original plans showed no work on the Stroman side of U.S. 1,” Alsbrook said. “The NCDOT said nothing about the road closings during the right of way purchase. I even asked an engineer on the project, and he said that wasn’t going to happen. There has been some double-talk, and some dishonesty.”
Someone somewhere — perhaps more than one official — dropped the ball on this project when it came to being sensitive to neighbors, to the residents who have to live with the consequences of what the bulldozers and pavers left behind.
The NCDOT ought to be ashamed.