Cover Story: In the way of the Monroe Bypass

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Eminent domain and the Monroe Bypass.  "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."  Sage wisdom from Star Trek's Mr. Spock.

At least it sounds good, until the needs of the many run right through your yard.

Shortening your drive to the beach means putting an expressway on family farms and front lawns.

The Monroe connector bypass has been talked about for years.  Finally now, the project just received final federal approval.  20 miles of toll road - from 485 to eastern Union County.

It'll bypass that nasty stretch of Highway 74 and take close to half an hour off the beach drive.

But convenience comes at a price.  Dozens of families will be bought out of their homes.

They've known it could happen for years, but the day of having to pack up is getting closer.

For the Monroe Bypass, many will benefit and a few will be hurt.

"It is scheduled to come right across here."

Ron Fowler walks down his driveway and shows us the stakes the state had placed about a year ago.  Stakes that mark where the Monroe Bypass will cut through.

"This is your front yard?  It is."

Property that's been in his family for generations in the near future will belong to the state of North Carolina.  And Ron Fowler and his family will have to move.  "It's a hard feeling to describe. You know that the road's coming. You know you're going to lose your house. Certainly hate that and regret that."

Plans for a bypass around Monroe have been on the drawing board 25 years.  But not enough cash and Highway 74 getting worse by the year, the state went the toll-road route.

Now with the fed's signing off this week North Carolina can begin selling bonds this fall to finance construction.

Some or all of 500 parcels of property will be bought up.  More than 100 homes and businesses will have be moved.  And after all these years the buyout's happening over the next two years.

"You know it's a need but at the same time the personal side of you says I wish it'd go somewhere else. I guess that's human nature."

The state's settled on a route and the Turnpike Authority acknowledges that ought to help some.

According to Steve DeWitt the NC Turnpike Authority's Chief Engineer, "This is an important point so the property owners that are in the corridor know specifically where they are and what the impacts are."

But for neighbors who live on Fowler Road like Ron Fowler, knowing they're in the way leaves little comfort.

Will he fight? No, he says.  The state can take his property through eminent domain.  "Really don't think there's anything I could do to change it. As much as you would want to.."

What brings it all home, a cemetery that dates back to the mid 1800s will also have to be moved.  And then it sinks in.  "God's got a plan and we're part of that. So, we'll be fine."

The state will be contacting about 20-to-30 property owners who are definitely in the path this fall, the rest will be notified over the next year or so.

A contract is expected to be awarded by the end of this year and construction starts next year.

This is one of the biggest road undertakings the state's doing right now.  The 4-lane 20-mile route is expected to cost about $825 million.  The project has a scheduled completion date of 2014.

If successful it could be finished ahead of the Charlotte outerbelt.  A section in the northeast is slated to be completed in early 2015.

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