Emotions mixed on NC 16 project
Earlier this year, the Jones Fish Camp restaurant in Denver offered an “orange barrel special” every weekend.
The dinner deal, which changed frequently, played off the bright orange traffic barrels that lined Jones’ parking lot because of widening construction to the adjacent new N.C. 16 highway.
“We’re going to make the best of it, even if we lose a few parking spaces,” said Garrett Goodson, owner and president of Jones Fish Camp.
To make space for the wider, four-lane N.C. 16, the Department of Transportation removed a portion of Jones’ parking lot nearest the road. Goodson estimates he will lose 10 to 12 total parking spots.
As the highway continues to encroach on his property, however, Goodson said business is good.
“It’s been a mess, but to be honest, our business has really increased,” Goodson said. “I kept thinking it was going to kill us, this was going to kill us, but our business has increased about 20 percent over the last two years.”
But many area residents have not had the same experience as Goodson. Since the NCDOT first proposed the widening project in the late 1990s, many N.C. 16 residents became concerned about the intruding road.
NCDOT representatives hope to quell some of those concerns Monday when they host questions at an informational meeting from 4p.m. to 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Newton Main Library. The informational session will revolve around the next phase of the widening project, which will expand the two-lane portion of N.C. 16 from north of Tower Road to Claremont Road to four lanes.
The section of the highway is about 8.2 miles long and will take place in two stages. Buying for the project starts in June 2013 while construction will begin in August 2015, said Zahid Baloch, NCDOT Project Development and Environmental Analysis Branch representative.
“With any project, you will have some angry people,” Baloch said. “Every time we move them, there’s a lot of burden on them. We try to make sure that the impacts are minimized.”
Baloch said this 8.2-mile stretch of road is the only portion of N.C. 16 that is two lanes and “would not be up to standards” in the future.
Taking land away
Any type of widening project is likely to take away land from local residents, and this new construction phase will be no different.
While Baloch said the NCDOT is doing the best it can to “minimize the impact on the community,” Catawba County Planning Director Jacky Eubanks said new changes to the widening design may cause “interesting” reactions from residents.
Eubanks said while original widening plans did not contain a median, new changes have a “continuous grass median” running between the four-lane highway — forcing the road closer to local residents like Jim Sherrill.
“It’s going to take a lot of my beautiful property I’ve worked on for 40 years,” said Sherrill, who lives on the 2700 block of N.C. 16 South in Newton. “There’s nothing you can do. You can refuse, but they can condemn it and take it.”
Sherrill said if the new highway does have a median, some of the trees and shrubs in his yard may be cut down.
“Four lanes in front of my house is nothing but a racket,” said Sherrill, who has lived at his current property since 1956. “I wish there was a way we could stop it.”
Eyeing the future
Despite citizens’ concerns, NCDOT and Catawba County officials say the move will benefit the area in the future.
Eubanks said the entire widening project will bring opportunities for Catawba County.
“I think this will really bring the Charlotte region closer to us, and the goal is to get people to take a second look at Catawba County,” he said.
Baloch said traffic on N.C. 16 is projected to steadily increase in coming years, and that the current two-lane stretch would not be adequate.
“If we kept it just a two-lane road, at some time in the future the level of service would not be acceptable to that area,” said Baloch, adding that the current 8.2-mile stretch of highway creates a bottleneck effect that is not conductive to flowing traffic.
Balcoch and Eubanks said they will do as much as possible to limit the impact on the citizens who live on N.C. 16. Baloch added that he encourages anyone with questions to attend the informational meeting Monday with an open mind and questions.
Though business has increased for Goodson at Jones Fish Camp, he can still empathize with other locals who are frustrated.
“It’s hard on people, but there’s progress that needs to be done. People have to sacrifice some things sometime for progress,” Goodson said. “We need this, and it needs to be four lanes from Charlotte to Hickory.”