It is not easy to build a new state road. It is frequently a long and difficult journey for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to get from conceptualization to construction; a process troubled by federal regulators, lawsuits, and funding concerns. But, it is often an equally long and difficult journey for the local property owners who have to wait years or decades expecting to eventually lose their land, homes, and businesses when the DOT finally constructs its new road.
Take, by way of example, the NC 119 Relocation in Alamance County. NC 119 connects I-85/I-40 at Mebane to US 58 in Virginia. The DOT started the project in 1990. It was supposed to start buying the necessary land for the first half (Part A) in September 2013 and start construction on Part A in 2015. But, at the October 2013 Board of Transportation meeting, the DOT decided to delay buying the land until 2014.
NC 119 serves as a primary corridor for Mebane's business community, due to its interchange with I-85/I-40 and the fact that it runs through downtown Mebane. It is an important road that carries over 10,000 cars per day. It carries traffic to retail establishments like Kingsdown Commons, Lowes Home Improvement, Food Lion, Cambridge Shopping Center and to downtown Mebane. It also carries traffic to important employers like Sandvik, Incorporated, Arca Tech Systems, and Sports Endeavors.
But currently, NC 119 follows a haphazard/"dog leg" route along Fifth Street, US 70, Third Street, Graham Street, and First Street. While it is mostly three lanes at the I-85 interchange, it narrows down to 2 lanes between the interchange and Mebane and between Mebane and the Virginia border.
Local leaders have wanted to improve the road since 1990, when they included the current project on the Alamance County Urban Area Thoroughfare Plan. They wanted NC 119 straightened, widened, and to not trap emergency and other vehicles at the railroad crossing on the south edge of town.
Development of the NC 119 Relocation Project
The North Carolina Department of Transportation started studying how to straighten, widen, and improve NC 119 in 1994 when it began environmental studies necessary to get a federal permit to build the new road. These studies required the DOT to design a number of alternative routes and compare them against each other to see which route provided the most public benefit, while hurting the physical and social environment the least.
The DOT also assembled a "Relocation Steering Committee" comprised of local residents, community leaders, and business leaders. The Steering Committee held local meetings in 2004, 2006, and 2008.
In 2007, the DOT issued a "Draft Environmental Impact Statement" which showed the three alternative routes and compared them to determine which provided the most benefit at the least cost to the purse and to the physical environment and social environment.
In January 2008, the public was invited to view and comment on the three proposed alternative routes for NC 119. By June 2008, the DOT had selected the preferred route (Route 9).
In June 2009, it issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement to the public and federal government summarizing the studies it performed in order to get the federal permit to build NC 119 along Route 9.
In December of 2009, the Federal Government approved the DOT's selection of Route 9.
In 2010, the DOT held a Design Public Hearing to introduce to the public how the new road would likely ultimately look.
The DOT was supposed to start buying land by now. Where is the project at now? When will the DOT start buying the land and building the road?
Originally, it planned to buy the land to build the first half of the new road in September 2013. This date was informally pushed back until November 2013. Finally, the DOT announced at its October Board meeting that it would not start buying land until 2014. I believe it wants to reevaluate whether this road should be funded now, or delayed until some indefinite point in the future.
Where Does That Leave the Property Owners?
It leaves many of them in a tough place. What does this decade and a half of governmental planning mean to the people whose land, homes, and businesses sit in the shadow of the new road?
The DOT has successfully contended to date that its planning does not hurt property owners enough to justify paying them any compensation until their property is taken for the new road. But, it is an open secret that property owners can be hurt by the years of planning.
When, in 1990, local officials placed this project on the Alamance County Urban Area Thoroughfare Plan, those lines on a map had consequences for the people whose property lay under the proposed new road. They (and the world) were told that their land is reserved for a new road and not for homes, businesses, farms, etc. If you need to sell your property, the buyer (at least the market) knows that the use of your property is temporary and limited until the DOT decides to build the new road.
Further, municipalities like Mebane and Alamance County can require people who wish to develop their land or expand their businesses to stay out of the area reserved for the new road or possibly even build a portion of the new road for DOT as a condition of development. While planning a new road is necessary and proper, it is a mistake to believe that people do not suffer.
You can imagine how, as this project advanced stage by stage, meeting by meeting, the shadow of the new road grows darker and ever more present in peoples' minds and thoughts. And now, after over a decade of planning and after the DOT has gotten to the very cusp of purchasing the land and building the road, it has announced another delay, possibly for an indefinite period of time.
If you're at a standstill because of a current government project, there are steps you can take to try and free your property or get compensation earlier.
When your property is being condemned, call the NC Eminent Domain Law firm at 1-877-393-4990 for a free case evaluation.