The public had a chance to react Tuesday to a $260 million road construction project that will allow traffic from U.S. Highway 1 to bypass Rockingham and Hamlet.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation held a public hearing about the proposal to widen U.S. 1 to a four-lane median-divided roadway along existing U.S. 1, from about one and a half miles north of Fox Road to Marston Road. The project 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 at Rockingham City Hall at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 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.
“We’ve completed the final environmental impact study,” said Joyner. “We will complete a record of decision by the end of the year once we have comments from the general public.”
Joyner said the proposed construction would require the relocation of 97 residences and nine businesses. Some areas may require a noise wall, as well.
“This project has the potential to help Richmond County’s economic development efforts,” said County Manager Rick Sago. “Anytime you increase access to a four-lane highway, it enhances the flow of raw materials and finished products to and from our industries. Since a large portion of shipping is done via trucks, additional access to major highways can help our industries.”
One section of the project will focus on widening the highway between the Rockingham Speedway and the Rockingham Dragway, northeast of Rockingham. U.S. Highway 1 was widened to five lanes starting north of the racetracks and ending at the Richmond/Moore county line in recent years. The expansion between the racetracks is proposed to elongate the already-widened highway north of the racetracks and extend it down between the racetracks, “to allow maximum options with race traffic,” said Joyner.
“In addition, with the return of NASCAR to the Rockingham Speedway, any roadway improvements that make it easier for fans to get to and from the speedway and dragway will certainly make the fans’ trip easier and cut down on traffic congestion,” said Sago.
Other officials agreed the racetracks would benefit from a better traffic flow.
“I attended the government officials meeting this afternoon at Rockingham City Hall for an overview and question and answer session concerning the upcoming project,” said Bryan Land, county director of Public Works. “I feel that this upcoming project gives us in Richmond County a fantastic opportunity for growth and prosperity adjacent to the U.S. 1 corridor. Section C of the project helps to alleviate some major congestion around two of our largest attractions; Rockingham Speedway and Rockingham Dragway, especially with the addition of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Race Series.”
A public hearing was held at 7 p.m. at Richmond Senior High School, 838 U.S. 1 north, Rockingham, to obtain public input, provide information regarding the design and location of the proposed project and to implement corridor protection. Per state law, that protection means building permits can’t be issued within the project corridor unless a petition for a variance is approved. The hearing presentation included an explanation of the proposed project and corridor location, project design, transportation corridor official map act, and right of way and relocation requirements and procedures.
A pre-hearing open house was held at the same location from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. NCDOT representatives were available to answer questions and receive comments, accept written comments or questions and to sign up speakers for the hearing.
Attendees of the hearing had a chance to come up to the microphone, state their name and say their comment or ask a question. Eight people signed up to speak during the open house, and none of the eight spoke in favor of the proposed project. Some of the eight said they disagreed with the decisions, some said they read the Environmental Impact Study done for the project and were not satisfied with the findings presented and some had concerns about their property and way of life.
Lynne Stephens, who said she was 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.”
Stephens had her speech prepared and listed studies she had read on the proposed project that showed an improved commute time of only a few minutes, discussed peak-hour traffic in downtown Rockingham and expressed concern that traffic directed away from Rockingham would bring down tax revenue.
Amanda Wilson of Rockingham said she watched N.C. Highway 74 bypass take her grandmother’s property in an unfair deal. Wilson said, “I object to this,” and that she was “taking (her) comments to Raleigh in the morning.”
Residents close to the racetracks said the widening and building of a median might hinder turn-around for tractors and sand trucks. Another resident along the stretch read a letter from her father, who said he believed the Environmental Impact Study didn’t take certain species into account, such as the endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker he said used to be on his property. Residents said they didn’t want to lose land that had been in their family for generations, and didn’t want small communities with historical significance to be overlooked, such as the Pistol Ridge Road community by the Richmond County Airport.
Joyner, who moderated the question and comment session after giving the presentation at the public hearing, said the environmental impact “document” did not contain all the studies. He also said that not all the funding for the project has been secured, and could take several years to be procured before sections of the project could begin.
Joyner encouraged residents and property owners to send comments to him. Mail can be send 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.