KERNERSVILLE, N.C. – It's taken 27 years, but on Friday, ground was finally broken on the I-74 Northern Beltway Project.
The $1.08 billion project began as an idea in 1987. A week ago, the state awarded a $154 million contract to begin a four-mile stretch of the project, between U.S. 158 and Business 40.
The project began at the top of the state's priority list, then nearly hit the bottom, and is now back up towards the top thanks to five contributing factors; congestion, job creation, safety, freight movement, and connectivity.
"It's going to complete connectivity between central North Carolina, and Virginia, with Winston-Salem and the Triad being the hub of that connectivity," said North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata. "To increase job opportunities, to increase access to healthcare, to increase access to education centers."
"This is a big deal for the entire region, and the entire state, and even the state of Virginia and Tennessee," said Governor Pat McCrory.
However, this project has also caused heartache and despair for people in its path. Many landowners were in the 40s and 50s when the state first approached them about buying their land, and some didn't live long enough to see it happen.
"We've had three plaintiffs die on us, and we're going to have more die on us before this is resolved," said Matthew Bryant, an attorney for beltway landowners. "It is a daunting task to ask a 75-year-old widow to stand up to the DOT."
The state has purchased over 500 properties from landowners, but about 70 people from Forsyth County are still fighting the state for what they consider to be fair payment.
"They're stuck, legally stuck in a roadway that the state doesn't know when it's going to buy them, or what it's going to pay them," said Bryant. "I think some people have been waiting a long time and they deserve to get paid for that wait."
"My heart goes out to anyone who's been impacted by decades of delay on this project," said Tata.
"The people in this region have been hearing speeches and promises for ten years, now it's time for action and that's exactly what we're doing," said Governor McCrory.
An economic study put together by experts, along with the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, says the beltway would create 33,800 jobs and add $2 billion in economic activity upon completion.
The next step is a billion-dollar bond, which Governor McCrory will be trying to convince our lawmakers to approve, so that the state can begin work on the remainder of the project.