About 75 people turn out for DOT meeting

Jerry Daw stood and spoke straight from the heart.

Daw was one of about 75 people who turned out for an N.C. Department of Transportation hearing on the proposed U.S. 70 Havelock bypass on Monday at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.

Part of the new highway is designed to go right through his family home place.

“As a land owner that will be contributing to this project, we should have more concrete information as to what is going to happen to our land,” Daw said. “We’re talking about my home place, where I was raised, where I lived, where I worked in tobacco and gave for this community.

“I’m all for the improvement of Havelock. This is my hometown. This is where I grew up and hopefully this is where I will die. I think that North Carolina owes it to at least the landowners a little more information about what to expect and when to expect it.”

Daw said that without a clear picture from the state about his property, his family is stuck.

“We’re frozen in time because by law we can’t do anything with our property,” he said. “We can’t sell it because nobody’s going to buy it.”

The bypass was first proposed to the state in 1977 and landed on the state’s transportation plan during the 1980s, only for funding, environmental issues and other road projects to cause delays.

“We’ve been waiting on it for 30 years,” said Robert S. Clark, who lives at 1008 Lake Road in a old flat top house that had been moved off of Cherry Point in 1963. He’s rebuilt it twice and had always heard about a bypass coming. But when and where wasn’t a sure thing.

“We didn’t know where it was going to go,” Clark said. “At first they were standing on my front porch surveying, so I said heck, maybe he’s going to take my house. You never know.”

Clark couldn’t decide whether to make improvements to his home.

“I needed to put a roof on it, but I said why should I put a roof on it if they’re going to tear the house down?” he said. “So it’s just been, they’re going to do it, then they’re not. They’re going to do it, then they’re not, for the last 30 years. I’m 86 years old. I hope to see it before I die.”

After Monday’s meeting, Clark was convinced the state wasn’t going to take his house, but another question arose. Clark owns 20 acres on Lake Road adjacent to where the new interchange would be built at the middle point in the 10.3-mile bypass.

“I’ve had a couple people make offers to buy it, but I’ve said no,” Clark said.

He said the spot would be just right for a new gas station within sight of the thousands of motorists headed to and from the beach once the bypass is completed.

Peggy Geier remembered when an earlier alternative was going to come very close to her house on Dowling Drive, off Sunset Drive in the Greenfield Heights area.

“I’m very happy that it doesn’t go through my living room now, so that part of it I’m very happy about,” Geier said. “We’ve lived in that house since the early ’70s so I would have hated to have to relocate, so this is not going to move any of our neighbors or our home at all. I’m sorry that they are going to have to take some of the trailers out of the Greenfield Heights Trailer Park.”

Bill Ebron said his family could benefit from the new highway, saying the bypass is expected to go through about 33 acres behind Hickman Hills that is owned by his father.

“The land has limited access to it now, so it may be a route to either get something from the land or some kind of development,” he said. “We don’t know. It may turn into a benefit.”

According to the DOT, 16 homes, one business and one nonprofit would have to be relocated based on current bypass designs.

Not everyone who came to the meeting was concerned about losing property. Many came just to see how the bypass would impact Havelock and traffic patterns.

“It’s been in the works for many, many years,” said George Liner, a Havelock resident and Craven County Commissioner. “I’ve got a split household on this. I’m pushing for it. My wife is pushing against it, but if the port and Cherry Point is to succeed and move on, it’s going to have to come through.

“I think it may increase and help, because the bypass is going to generate the people going to the port at Morehead, the big trucks. I think the normal process of getting down sightseeing on a leisurely tour I think will still bring people into Havelock.”

Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said the bypass would change how Havelock grows.

“I think it will change our focus on growth more to the south of Havelock, which isn’t really a bad thing because we are landlocked east and west,” he said. “We have a little bit of room west, but it will give us a new opportunity for growth.

“I think there are some concerns here that we are going to have to talk to DOT about. We don’t want to decrease the navigability of our own citizens to get everyone else around Havelock. We want to make sure that we can still move around.”

Lewis said the interchange where the bypass would meet existing U.S. 70 just east of Havelock could impact median openings at McCotter Boulevard and Shepard Street.

“ … If we lose those, we’ve got an entire block there that’s going to be hard to access,” he said.

He said he’s also concerned with the interchange to the west of Havelock that could impact the proposed Slocum Road interchange and changes to the Tucker Creek area where vehicles would have to make U-turns onto existing U.S. 70 near Hickman Hills.

“We’re a little bit concerned about school buses doing a U-turn there and cars merging in at 55 miles per hour,” Lewis said.

One of the biggest concerns may be the impact on Havelock’s small businesses that can attract tourists heading to the beach, whether it be restaurants, car dealers or gas stations.

“Unfortunately there could be a few businesses in town that could suffer because of the bypass moving tourists around,” Lewis said. “The alternative is if we don’t have a bypass in the next 20 years, we don’t want to be taking an hour to drive through town because of the traffic projections that we’re looking at. I think overall it will help Havelock. We will have some sacrifices though.”

Others expressed concerns about what they said would be an increase of traffic coming into Havelock on Lake Road because of a planned interchange.

“How the hell is Lake Road going to facilitate that volume of traffic?” resident Ralph Behrens said.

He said he favors the bypass but believes the state is wasting money with construction of an interchange at Lake Road.

The four-lane, controlled access freeway will be constructed just west of Havelock beginning near the old Havelock Building Supply to just east of Shepard Street. It is being built to increase regional use of U.S. 70 and provide easier and quicker access to the Morehead City port as well as the Carteret County beaches.

Diane Wilson, senior DOT public information officer, said that traffic studies have shown that by 2035 only five of the 13 traffic signals in Havelock would be able to handle the traffic load on U.S. 70 without the bypass.

The cost is projected at $221 million, with 80 percent coming from the federal government and 20 percent from the state.

Property purchases along the route are expected to begin late this year, with construction set for late in 2017. The projected completion date would be in 2020 or 2021.

The DOT is accepting public comment on the proposed highway through Sept. 28. Comments can be mailed to Diane Wilson, NCDOT- Human Environment Section, 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699, or emailed to Wilson at pdwilson1@ncdot.gov. Comments can also be phoned in at 919-707-6073.

“We’d like to get your comments, good, bad, or indifferent,” Wilson said.