The North Carolina Department of Transportation continues to gather comments on the proposed $260 million U.S. Highway 1 Bypass proposal.
The massive project includes widening U.S. 1 to a four-lane median-divided roadway along existing U.S. 1, from about Marston Road to about one and a half miles north of Fox Road, and construction of a major bypass through the Richmond County countryside from just south of the Rockingham Speedway extending to an area southwest of Hamlet, near Sandhill Road. The proposed bypass includes interchanges at the U.S. 74 Bypass, Airport Road, U.S. 74 Business and Wiregrass Road/County Home Road.
According to the NC Department of Transportation, the purpose of the project is to reduce travel time and reduce congestion in downtown Rockingham by diverting through traffic and truck traffic from local streets, and improve mobility along U.S. 1.
An informal meeting for city and county officials was held Oct. 30 in Rockingham, at which Drew Joyner of NCDOT presented the main points of the project. Joyner showed maps and spoke about the different sections of the proposed project. He said the proposed construction would require the relocation of 97 residences and nine businesses. Some areas may require a noise wall, as well.
On the evening of Oct. 30 a public hearing was held to inform the public of project plans and to allow them to comment or ask questions. Nearly 100 people turned out, and more than a half dozen asked to speak. Many spoke in opposition to the proposal, some voicing concerns about the project’s impact on their property and way of life.
Lynne Stephens, who said she’s a resident of Richmond County and a business owner, said, “I don’t believe there is a need for this. I’m against spending millions of taxpayer dollars on this.”
Public officials of Richmond County contacted by the Daily Journal are responding favorably to the proposed project.
“We’re excited about having the bypass come into the main intersection of N.C. Highway 74 business,” said Hamlet Mayor Jeff Smart. “Especially if there’s a cloverleaf interchange in between Hamlet and Rockingham. Hopefully that interchange will attract some businesses into our area like hotels and gas stations for those who travel through. I anticipate travelers coming off the interchange into town.”
Smart said he has been part of the planning process for some time.
“We’ve already done a lot of work with the state and NCDOT on the acquisition of property and getting rid of unattractive areas over the last couple of years,” said Smart. “We’ve known about this idea for several years, and now that it’s closer, I think it will be positive for Richmond County.”
Hamlet’s neighbor, Dobbins Heights, will also be affected by the proposed bypass and Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue remains realistic about the outcome.
“A bypass in most cases is a good thing, even though it takes traffic away from a small town,” said Blue. “I’m sure we’ll lose some traffic but people who have business in Hamlet or Dobbins Heights will come that way regardless. In a lot of cases it’s good for local traffic. People probably don’t realize the total impact of the bypass just yet.”
Rockingham Mayor Pro-tem John Hutchinson said the decrease in traffic could make Fayetteville Road and East Washington Street feel like small-town neighborhoods again, once the bypass is in place.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing,” said Hutchinson. “It will bring traffic closer to the business district. The city has been planning for a long time and we’ve tried to be ready with the infrastructure in place, and we’ve already seen new businesses come in like the Holiday Express Hotel and the new Walmart. The bypass is going to take all the heavier traffic away from Fayetteville Road and hopefully make that street a whole lot more livable and beautiful. It should bring the small-town feel back.”
Joyner encouraged residents and property owners to send comments about the proposed bypass to him. Mail can be sent to NCDOT - Human Environment Section, 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699. Calls can be placed to 919-707-6077 and emails can be sent to email@example.com.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.