His entire life, Mike Norris has lived and worked within a two-mile stretch.

That area around N.C. 62 in Burlington includes his current business, Norris Automotive, which has existed for 22 years at 410 Alamance Road, and his home nearby.

He has witnessed firsthand an increase of traffic on the road, a reality that affects the precise time he has to leave to go around the corner for work to open his shop on time.

He saw the demolition of the building that at one point housed an automotive business owned by his late father, Fred Norris, just down the street at Alamance Road and South Mebane Street, when the state widened the latter.

As the N.C. Department of Transportation began gathering public input Monday to move forward with plans to widen just over a mile of N.C. 62, presenting ideas about taking part of the road to three lanes versus four, Norris said the state should go ahead and take on the larger design.

“Because it’s got to be done,” he said, describing waiting several minutes, sometimes, just to make a right turn out of his business.

He doesn’t want to see the state undertake a smaller project, only to have to go back and redo it in the future.

“The traffic is going to get worse in 10 years, 20 years,” he said.

He isn’t concerned about losing his building based on the amount of land he has on the front of the business, he said, but he would prefer that the state take right of way from both sides of the road instead of working from one side.

Those topics — from where the state will obtain land, and how much it will need, among other questions — were discussed at the N.C. Department of Transportation’s public workshop Monday, held at Grove Park Baptist Church, a building along the project study area that spans from South Church Street to Ramada Road.

“This is the very, very beginning of the process,” said Mike Mills, NCDOT’s Division 7 engineer. “We haven’t decided anything yet.”

But the estimated $8 million project, a construction timeline of which was recently accelerated by the state because of a budget surplus, will move fairly quickly.

Mills expects NCDOT will call members of the public back again as soon as August to present them with a plan for how wide the road will be and which properties will be affected.

The state will begin acquiring necessary right of way for the project in early 2018. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2019 and should be finished within a couple years, Mills said.

 

WHILE NOTHING HAS BEEN set in stone, NCDOT is essentially attempting to decide whether to widen the portion of Alamance Road from South Church Street to South Mebane Street from two lanes to either three lanes, including a turning lane, or four lanes with a grassy median down the center.

The remaining area, from South Mebane Street to Ramada Road by Interstate 40/85, is currently five lanes, including a turning lane down the middle — what some in traffic engineers refer to as a “suicide lane” because of the number of collisions caused by drivers using it to pass or for travel.

The state is considering constructing a median along the center of that stretch of road, as well, effectively restricting left turns to certain areas, based on the design.

“We’ll work with the businesses to put them in the busy locations,” said Jamille Robbins, a public involvement group leader with NCDOT.

Tim Hegarty, chief development officer for Biscuitville, which has two stores in the study area, attended the meeting with the company’s real estate manager, Lee Easley.

Hegarty said the company wasn’t necessarily opposed to any such road projects as he wants to be sympathetic toward the existing traffic problems, but naturally wanted to ensure that access to Biscuitville restaurants on Alamance Road and South Church Street weren’t hindered as a result.

“If there’s a full median [on Alamance Road], that could prohibit access for cars heading north,” Hegarty said. “That would be the biggest concern.”

In addition to preventing collisions from left turns into traffic, Robbins said, such medians provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing the street, only having to get through two lanes of traffic at a time.

“That left turn out of a side street is the most dangerous movement you could make,” said Dewayne Sykes of KCI Associates of NC, the consulting agency working with NCDOT on the project.

Though there haven’t been fatal wrecks along that stretch of Alamance Road, the crash rate there is nearly five times the state average and three times the critical rate. The state reports that on South Mebane Street, the crash rate is lower in the four-lane section divided by a median than in the undivided section.

Along Alamance Road, 45 percent of the wrecks are rear-end collisions.

 

THOUGH THE CONSTRUCTION has the potential to improve traffic flow and safety, as with any road projects of this nature, people will lose property. How much has yet to be determined.

“We don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Kelli Honeycutt, who with her husband, Bobby, attended the workshop Monday to voice their preferences and concerns.

The couple has lived on Trail Eight — where theirs and two other homes are in the potential area of impact — since 2001.

“That’s where we raised our family,” she said.

As they prepare for retirement in the next decade, they’re worried about the potential of having to start over in a new house.

“Who wants to get a new mortgage as you’re starting retirement?” she said.

But like a number of people at the meeting, the Honeycutts do believe something needs to be done to handle traffic on the road. They aren’t opposed to NCDOT addressing the issue through widening, but want to be sure the proposed design will make the most difference without taking unnecessary property.

“There has to be some changes,” Kelli Honeycutt said.

Mills doesn’t yet have an estimate of how many property owners should be affected by the project. The state will consider whether to take right of way from one side — perhaps buying all of someone’s property — or splitting the difference on both sides.

Roughly $2 million of the project cost will go toward purchasing right of way.

The city of Burlington has requested sidewalks, bike lanes or multiuse paths — a combination of both — be constructed along the entire stretch of Alamance Road.

Mike Nunn, Burlington’s director of transportation, said the city’s share of that cost would be roughly 40 percent.

Nunn and Nolan Kirkman, Burlington’s director of development and technical services, attended the workshop from the city, as did City Council member Kathy Hykes.

Though a four-lane divided and landscaped street off the interstate could provide aesthetic improvements to Alamance Road, Nunn and Kirkman said the city’s comprehensive plan identified Maple Avenue as its key corridor for bringing traffic from the interstate into the center of the city.

The city is beginning a $148,000 study on revitalizing the area along Maple Avenue, including traffic improvements, economic development potential and land use changes.

 

Reporter Natalie Allison Janicello can be reached at nallison@thetimesnews.com or 336-506-3078. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.