Few people who live or work along US 158 can deny that it has problems. It’s an overcrowded highway, and in some sections it’s desperately in need of updating. That’s why the North Carolina Department of Transportation has proposed no fewer than three projects for improving 158. These projects are in various stages of planning and design, but many home and business owners have already been contacted by the NCDOT regarding possible eminent domain takings. While improvements to US 158 might overall be good news, this can also be a distressing circumstance for people who own property along the proposed construction route.
According to NCDOT officials like Michelle James, a Planning Engineer, the widening and updating projects are imperative. In public informational meetings about the projects that occurred in 2013, James stressed the inadequacy of US 158 at several different points. She pointed out the instability of the shoulders of US 158 where it runs through the Great Dismal Swamp. Statistics quoted during the meeting show 200 car accidents occurring in the area between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2012. The NCDOT also has concerns about US 158 because it is designated as a hurricane evacuation route. Unless the roadway is improved and widened, it will not be able to adequately serve this purpose.
As with nearly any major NCDOT project, planning the improvements to US 158 has been tricky. Currently, the roadway is just two lanes wide, but the widening project will make it four lanes wide. In addition, the new US 158 will boast a 46 foot median. Accordingly, the NCDOT will need to take substantial personal property to complete the projects. The improvements are likely to affect people living and working in Northampton, Hertford, Gates, Forsyth and Guilford Counties.
Because of the scope of these projects, they are subject to sprawling timelines. Property owners along some stretches of US 158 may have been contacted as early as 2012 while others, such as those in Forsyth and Guilford Counties may not be contacted until 2018.
The NCDOT has tried to take the rights of property owners into consideration when drawing up alternative plans for the US 158 improvements. For instance, they rejected plans that would have taken the new highway directly through the historic downtown of the village of Sunbury. They have also had to plan for ways to avoid impacting protected swampland and other natural resources. Nonetheless, thousands of North Carolina property owners have been or will be impacted by these projects.
If you have been contacted by the NCDOT or if you live or own a business somewhere close to the current or proposed location of US 158, you need eminent domain legal advice. The government has the ability to condemn land that it needs for projects that are aimed at improving the public welfare. Still, they are not allowed to do so with impunity. The law requires that they adequately compensate the property owner for the loss of any land. It’s generally not advisable to simply accept what the NCDOT offers. Instead, a better decision can be reached by seeking legal advice from the eminent domain lawyers at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog.
North Carolina property owners can make better informed decisions with the right legal counsel. Contact Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog if the NCDOT has reached out to you about a potential eminent domain action.