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By Kristen Johnson, Staff Writer - The language might have changed, but the opposition remains the same.

With its first vote of 2003, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve an amended resolution restating its opposition to the High Point West Belt project.

The previous board unanimously passed a similar resolution Oct. 3.

That resolution contained language — removed with Thursday’s vote — asking the NC Department of Transportation to “consider alternative designs to the High Point West Belt that would not negatively impact Davidson County residents.”

Bill Schafer informed the commissioners during Thursday’s public address that the petition signed by roughly 1,000 area property owners was meant to be written as a “no build, no option” resolution.

“I don’t believe 975 residents would be happy with their names on that document,” Schafer said. “They signed a document saying that road was not to be built under any circumstances.”

County attorney Stephen “Bit” Holton told board members the resolution would be “more forceful” without the language asking for options to be explored.

The proposed road is a 10.5-mile project that area transportation officials hope will eventually connect Interstate 85 in Davidson County with U.S. 311 in High Point.

It has been included on the High Point Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for several years.

“I don’t really think this board’s opposition will matter,” said Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley, who has served as the board’s NCDOT liason for nearly 10 years. “The MPO supports this, and we’ve only got one vote on that board.”

The MPO Transportation Plan was updated in 2001 to include the West Belt. The commissioners voted June 12 of that year to approve the plan, without objection to the road’s construction.

Commissioner and Thomasville-area resident Sam Watford cited the proposed FedEx hub as an important reason for the West Belt’s construction.

“If you live in Thomasville, it’s hard to get to the airport,” he said. “A limited-access highway will help make that an easier trip and help development from the FedEx hub.”

Watford and Kepley both voted against approving the resolution of opposition.

Commissioner Don Truell, a Thomasville resident and former mayor, asked county planning director Guy Cornman how Thomasville felt about the road’s construction since Thomasville also has one vote on the MPO board.

Thomasville City Councilmembers voted unanimously Dec. 16 to continue supporting the West Belt, citing difficulty of adding projects to the NCDOT Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

“If it’s taken off, it might never get back on,” Mayor Hubert Leonard said at that meeting.

“I do know that, as a planner, there is a need for a north-south route to handle traffic,” Cornman told board members. “And a lot of people travel north from the southern end of the county — that’s where the jobs are — that’s the reason it was added to the TIP.”

Cornman pointed out that he has been on the MPO’s Technical Coordinating Committee for 15 years, and “there is no designated route.”

“That’s the process we’re about to begin,” he said. “It’s a tremendously long process, and it might not be built in our lifetime.”

State environmental studies may not be completed until 2004 or 2005.

Project design is scheduled to take place during 2006, right-of-way acquisition in 2008, and construction in 2015.

Staff writer Kristen Johnson can be reached at 472-9500, ext. 232, or at johnson@tvilletimes.com.

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