With two western Union County towns divided over which route is best, state road engineers will take questions at three public meetings this week about the Monroe Connector/Bypass.
“I think it's ‘agree to disagree,'” Indian Trail Mayor John Quinn said of his town's lingering dispute with neighboring Stallings. At issue is where to place a road segment to link Interstate 485 with the proposed 22-mile toll road.
Indian Trail officials oppose a segment called Route 2. It would cut into a 225-acre business park in their town.
Stallings opposes Route 18A, which could bring access ramps near Stallings Elementary. Opponents of that route say it could endanger schoolchildren and the environment.
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The N.C. Turnpike Authority won't announce which route it prefers until December. But it will provide more details this week on the routes' impacts, as well as preliminary design plans.
The Tuesday and Wednesday meetings are in Indian Trail, Monroe and Wingate.
“It'll help people better understand the tie-in on the west end of the project,” said Jennifer Harris, a staff engineer with the authority.
State officials won't take suggestions. But they will answer questions on the road's potential impacts, spokeswoman Reid Simons said.
Another public comment period will be in early 2009. The Federal Highway Administration must approve final plans. Construction wouldn't start until early 2010. The state has planned the road since the 1980s.
Today, residents, business owners and town officials wait to see whose backyard will have the $757 million tollway that will stretch east almost to Marshville.
Quinn said Route 2 conflicts with his town's growth plan. But he said the town has planned for what's now known as Route 18A, which would link U.S. 74 and Secrest Shortcut Road by crossing Indian Trail-Fairview and Stallings roads.
“We attempted to preserve right-of-way and restricted it from further development,” Quinn said.
An early version of Route 2 would have cut into six businesses in Indian Trail's Old Hickory business park on Indian Trail-Fairview Road.
The Turnpike Authority last spring shifted the route so it would affect two empty parcels the developers, Merrifield Partners, had planned for expansion.
The uncertainty has hurt developers' efforts to recruit tenants, said Ken Chapman, a partner.
Route 2's effect on the park depends on final designs.
Current maps show the road's path within 1,000 feet, Chapman said. “They're going to pick 300 feet of right-of-way in that 1,000-foot swath,” he said. “If it shifts right or left – that makes a big difference.”
As Chapman worries about Route 2, Ernie Vanderwalt does the same about Route 18A.
A year ago, Vanderwalt helped organize Stallings residents' opposition to an earlier incarnation of Route 18A. It would have taken out homes in three subdivisions and come close to homes in two others.
The Stallings man continues to fight the current Route 18A, a compromise by engineers that wouldn't displace homes but would come close to Stallings Elementary.
Vanderwalt's group, Citizens Against Route Eighteen, says the road would run near streams and wetlands. And with the start of the school's inaugural year, opponents say children's health will suffer because of air pollution from additional vehicles in area – not to mention added traffic.
“The traffic is not the same in this area as it was two weeks ago,” Vanderwalt said last week. The opening of Stallings Elementary Aug. 25 has sharpened parents' awareness of the Connector/Bypass, he said. “People are passionate now,” he said.
One is Veronica Hiley, mother of three Stallings Elementary students. She said parents don't yet have problems dropping off and picking up kids. But the nearby intersection of Stevens Mill and Stallings roads can be tricky to negotiate. She said she's uncertain what will happen if Connector/Bypass ramps are built nearby.
She said the road should be built near businesses, not homes and a school.
“We definitely need the road, but we needed it 10 years ago,” said Hiley, president of the Stallings Elementary parent-teacher organization. “We're the ones having to pay, because (state officials) dragged their feet on this.”