State road crews are scraping off a massive footprint for the final 5.7-mile stretch of Interstate 485, plowing through woodlands, pastures and other rural and suburban places and altering them forever.
The roadwork has sliced through four of Jay Mack and Constance “Jackie” Oehler’s 26 acres off Johnston-Oehler Road.
The state’s right-of-way for what ultimately will be an eight-lane road comes within 35 feet of the home where they’ve lived for 62 years.
Workers tore through the Oehlers’ cow pasture, leaving only portly tree stumps and piles of gnarled wood every so many yards once the rumble of trackhoes, skidders and chippers had moved out.
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Eventually, the couple also will lose what remains of their garage, part of their garden and much of their privacy to the project, which has an estimated cost of $208 million so far. This segment will connect Interstates 77 and 85 at the north end of the Outerbelt.
The homeowners know this unwelcome neighbor will bring noise and other disruptions, and everyone on their cul-de-sac will be cut off from nearby Johnston-Oehler Road, which is their only way out.
Yet they say they’ll stay.
Jay Mack Oehler was born in a house that still stands on the other side of the street, opposite his front porch; his father was born in a wooden house that’s also well within view.
His sister, two sons, four grandsons and five great-grandchildren also have homes in the same block.
“I don’t want to leave,” said Jay Mack Oehler, 82. “I’ve been here all my life.”
“We never had the option to leave,” said Jackie Oehler, 82, explaining that the state wanted to pay for only part of their land.
The Oehlers married in 1949 and settled on the street named for Jay Mack’s father, James “Jimmy” Oehler.
Jackie Oehler tried to persuade state agents buying right-of-way to swing the path of the road farther from their home and from their grandson’s house next door.
When that failed, the couple asked the N.C. Department of Transportation to put up a wall or some other buffer, to give them some privacy and protection from noise, he said.
But the Oehlers probably won’t see a wall go up around the interstate near their home. The only noise wall proposed for the final I-485 project would be near Prosperity Church Road, said Jen Thompson, a spokesperson for N.C. DOT.
A right-of-way line within 35 feet of a house is not close enough to justify buying it, under normal circumstances, said John Shoemaker, an assistant negotiator with NCDOT.
“We rely on an appraisal to determine an element of damages,” Shoemaker said. “That’s what we offer.”
A property owner can request a review of the appraisal.
“An appraisal is an opinion,” Shoemaker said.
The Oehlers are still in negotiations with the state over compensation for their land and damages to the remaining property, and they have hired an attorney.
The parties are still tens of thousands of dollars away from a deal, Jay Mack Oehler said.
From their dining room, the Oehlers probably will be close enough to tell you details about the vehicles whizzing by.
Construction is scheduled to be completed by December 2014. The Oehlers are preparing to say goodbye to the rural life they’ve always known there.
Still, they believe the state should have done a better job of protecting them.
“It was a lack of consideration,” Jackie Oehler said. “They didn’t put themselves in our place.”