RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. -- A Randolph County couple is waiting to hear whether they will have to give up their home as part of the construction of the U.S. 64 Asheboro Bypass project.
The goal of the new road is to make travel safer and relieve traffic congestion.
Chuck and Ann LaPrade started building their unique house in 1988. It is built into the side of a mountain on their farm property and Ann says it's one of the most unique homes in the state.
"It's under three feet of dirt. We still remember building the home with our own hands. Our children helped. Eventually, our children were both married on our property and we imagine them one day having this home, and our grandchildren having this home."
The final plans for the bypass have a branch called the Zoo Connector that will cut straight through the LaPrade's dog grooming business and chicken coops.
The couple says they've accepted those right-of-way decisions as best they could. But what they can't accept is the idea of losing their home.
The road will landlock their house because the future road is controlled access, meaning the Department of Transportation will not allow driveways built directly off it for safety reasons.
The LaPrades are hoping the state will build a service road to allow access to their home.
State DOT Resident Engineer Reuben Blakley tells FOX8 a service road along the Zoo Connector is still an option, but he does not know for sure.
The contractors were considering 38 service roads total for different parts of the 14-mile project. The one they would build along the Zoo Connector for the LaPrades would be about 0.7 miles long and estimated to cost more than a million dollars, he said.
So the state is comparing that cost to the appraisals for several parcels of land along the Zoo Connector. If it's cheaper to buy all of the parcels and "relocate" the LaPrades, they probably will.
"We want to make sure we’re spending tax dollars wisely while making sure we’re sensitive to relocating people. We don’t want to relocate people unless it’s an absolute necessity," Blakley said. "We can't put a price on sentimental value, but I believe the appraisal process reflects the uniqueness of a home." He said it's difficult to make everyone happy with such a large project.
Blakley said the contractors will have to buy all or part of 448 parcels for the bypass. As of last week, the state had notified 331 of those landowners and homeowners about the right-of-way decisions.
The LaPrades are one of many families affected. They are still waiting to hear.
Some residents are also raising concerns about the road being controlled access. Development such as businesses and gas stations will only be allowed at intersections, not along the bypass. The state says that is for safety reasons because the road will be 65 mph.
Chuck LaPrade is very concerned about the bypass taking business away from the business district in town along Dixie Drive. "We need development. We need jobs. If they were to allow us to develop along that connector, say motels, restaurants... that would be a tax base the county would see. That would be jobs they would see. That would be places for people who are visiting the zoo to stop and spend their money in Randolph County rather than getting on the bypass, zipping out of the county and spending it somewhere else.
Blakley understood but disagreed. "Anytime you build a bypass there’s concern you’re taking traffic away from the business section but what we feel like’s gonna happen here, and what we’ve seen across the state, is you actually remove the through traffic that was not planning on stopping anyway. And it reduces the congestion on the business section. It really gives the business section back to the locals. We believe this project will improve traffic flow and improve the economy."
According to the Heart of NC Visitor's Bureau, visitors to the North Carolina Zoo provide an annual estimated economic impact of $150 million to the local, regional and state economy.
A statement from the NC Zoo said in part, "The US 64 Bypass/Zoo Connector is a win-win for all involved. Zoo visitors will have safe and convenient access to and from the Zoo. Residents living in neighborhoods along Zoo Parkway will have relief from Zoo traffic congestion."
Chuck and Ann LaPrade said they are thrilled about local development, but not when it forces local residents, who have been supporting the tax base for years, to move from home. They believe it's unnecessary in their case.
For information about the project, click here.