A $244 million contract awarded by the state Department of Transportation this week will build a 14.6-mile U.S. 64 Bypass at Asheboro, including a recently approved connector that is expected to alleviate traffic jams and draw more visitors to the N.C. Zoo.
“This is just a dream come true,” Mary Joan Pugh, deputy zoo director and assistant secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said Friday. “We’ve been wanting better access to the zoo for decades.”
The bypass around Asheboro’s south side will be a four-lane, controlled-access highway with a median. DOT agreed in January to add the 1.6-mile Zoo Connector, a new access road that will take zoo traffic off the winding N.C. 159. When the new bypass opens in 2019, it will eliminate left turns and stop lights that cause backups on busy weekends.
N.C. 159 can get so clogged with zoo traffic that residents have difficulty getting in and out of their driveways. The slow drive south from U.S. 64 sometimes leads zoo visitors to worry that they have taken the wrong road, Pugh said.
“That really affects your trip to the zoo,” she said. “If you have a hard time getting here and a hard time leaving, that’s all you remember.”
A joint venture between Thompson-Arthur Paving and Wright Brothers, with Rummel, Klepper & Kahl as lead designers, will design and build the U.S. 64 Bypass. Construction could begin next spring, with completion scheduled for September 2019.
The N.C. Zoo has a $500 million long-range plan for expanding its exhibits and attracting private development that would include a hotel and conference center. Goals include attracting more than 1 million visitors a year – up from the current average of 750,000.
A statewide bond issue proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory includes $45 million for the zoo.
“We hope that will pass and combine with private money and give us $60 million to start on our plan,” Pugh said. “The Zoo Connector is really important for that.”