Officials discuss NC 127 widening project
The NC Hwy. 127 widening project and a proposed “swap” with the City of Hickory were discussed at a meeting with NC Department of Transportation Division 12 Engineer Mark Stafford on Monday, July 25. Alexander County Commissioners Ronnie Reese, Marty Pennell, and Kent Herman were in attendance, along with members of the Alexander County Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner, and interested citizens.
If the project proceeds as originally planned, the NC Hwy. 127 widening project would run from Cloninger Mill Road in Catawba County to Richey Road in Alexander County, with a four-lane divided highway and a new two-lane bridge. The Alexander County portion will include a sidewalk on the east side and a multi-use path on the west side.
Stafford led the discussion at the meeting and explained the current plans for NC Hwy. 127 as well as a proposal from the City of Hickory to swap part of the Alexander County portion of the road project for various benefits to be determined by both parties.
County Manager Rick French said the county hasn’t received much information about the project recently, but plans to meet with City of Hickory officials this week if possible to discuss more details about the swap.
Stafford said if the swap is accepted, the widening project would end at Shiloh Church Road near Mt. Pisgah Lutheran Church. In either case, NCDOT will construct a southbound right-turn lane onto Bethlehem School Road and that intersection will have a traffic signal.
“If you don’t agree with the swap, the project will go all the way to Richey Road as originally planned,” Stafford stated.
Stafford said the City of Hickory would like to use some of the NCDOT funds from the NC Hwy. 127 project for a Startown Road project, which is currently unfunded.
“Even before COVID-19, the DOT had funding issues. As of now, the STIP (State Transportation Improvement Program) is overprogrammed and no new projects are being funded,” Stafford related.
He said the portion from Cloninger Mill Road to Shiloh Church Road is estimated to cost $54 million, which includes the construction of a new two-lane bridge. The segment from Shiloh Church Road to Richey Road is estimated at $39 million.
Commission Chairman Ronnie Reese said, “Initially, there doesn’t appear to be much of an advantage to Alexander County unless Hickory significantly helps us with other projects.”
Stafford said right-of-way acquisition for the NC Hwy. 127 widening project is expected to begin in 2024, with construction to begin in 2026. Once begun, Stafford believes construction will last approximately three years.
UPDATE: A representative with NCDOT was scheduled to speak at the August 1st meeting of the Board of Commissioners, but following a phone conversation on Wednesday, the presentation was postponed as it appears that NCDOT will receive additional funds and needs more time to review current STIP projects.
The “Buy Local” is a not a new idea. In principle it has been here decades for some. But Bethlehem is a typical bedroom community with very limited buy opportunities and people primarily shop and bank where they work, not where they live. That’s why we only have one bank left here. Need something; especially in manufacturing, typically that meant a trip to Hickory; still does. Bethlehem has always struggle with attracting commercial growth; 127, lack of services and politics has held us back.
A dream began many years ago and their efforts got us our current bridge and eventually some services. The dream continues. A dream I began working with others over 20 years ago serving on committees and chairing a Long Range Planning Committee for Alexander County. Some of us were told we would be dead from old age before any expansion would happen on 127. When the news came the project was finally funded all the efforts of many folks over decades finally was becoming wrought it. Unfortunately some have retired, moved, got too old to participate and as predicted some pasted away. I hate to see all this effort and resources turned back over this proposed “swap” that ends the four lanes at Shiloh Church. I have had interest in commercial developers and the four lanes was a magnet. Stopping the four lanes at Shiloh Church greatly benefits existing commercial properties but limits potential growth opportunities for Bethlehem from others anticipating developing commercially. If the “swap” is accepted you might as well go ahead and give Catawba all the money and support their “Buy Local” efforts at the expense of Alexander County. Do not let politics ruin this for us. Say NO to the “swap”!
Latt Moretz, Bethlehem