Potential 401 bypass exposes another growing pain for booming Triangle

FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. (WTVD) -- Growing pains can be good problems, but relocating people or property to make room for more people?

That's what's at stake with a potential bypass highway coming to the US 401 corridor between Fuquay-Varina and Lillington, a key artery for commuters to Research Triangle Park, Fort Bragg and everything in between. According to the North Carolina Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), the population in southern Wake County and northern Harnett County could balloon by 300%, or nearly 100,000 people, by 2045.

"There is tremendous growth of RTP, downtown Raleigh and growth occurring in Fayetteville due to redistribution of assets to Fort Bragg and Pope Air Field," Kenneth Winthrow, a senior transportation planner at CAMPO, told ABC11.

At a public meeting on September 14, CAMPO planners will unveil new research done about the corridor, which could include more definitive route options for the potential bypass.

But the dotted line on even preliminary study maps are provoking worry and criticism from longtime residents.

"This is not just a field--this is our life," Joanie Bowden, a local cattle farmer, said. "This is our heritage and this is our ancestors' legacy they left to us. If you thought someone had a line going through your house, wouldn't that worry you?"

Candance Gray, co-owner of Olive Tree Farms, said a bypass would lead to "complete destruction."

"Farms need acreage and this bypass would take that from us," Gray said. "Our other most viable need is water. Our farm on Kennebec Road currently has 7 wells and 3 irrigation ponds for nursery use. Nursery stock needs water to survive. Container grown nursery stock is usually irrigated once a day sometimes twice in the heat of the summer. This bypass would take our land and take out our expensive irrigation wells and our expensive irrigation ponds."

CAMPO officials maintain there are several steps, not to mention years, before shovels could hit the ground. First CAMPO would have to approve a proposed route after lengthy study, but then the project would have to make its way into a NCDOT budget proposal that would go before lawmakers.

Even so, Bowden says the waiting is the hardest part.

"You're just in limbo," she said. "You can't put any permanent structure in place because you're wasting your money. It's hard enough on people in our income bracket to function anyway and we have chosen not to sell out to developers."

Rep. Erin Pare (R-Wake County) has come to the Bowden's defense and is hoping there can be more transparency in the process.

"How do we weigh personal property lines. Do we weigh that heavier than we do wetlands or cemeteries or some other criteria we're thinking about? Is it cost - does that weigh higher or lower than we're talking about? Distrust builds over time and if this thing happens again in our area, how are going to trust that process? How do we improve that? That's my role in this."

There are petitions and signs already opposing the 401 bypass, but Winthrow says that's exactly what he would expect - and that's part of the process.

"The message is to stay informed, be informed and stay engaged."
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