Corridor-Design Hearing Maps
Corridor-Design Hearing Maps

Part I (9.48 MB)

Part II (9.19 MB)

Project Fast Facts
  • Status: Projects Under Development
  • County: Graham
  • Type of Project: Four-lane, divided roadway primarily on new location
  • STIP Number: A-9BC
  • Estimated Cost: $383 million (2009-2015 STIP)
  • Property Acquisition Start: Fiscal Year 2014
US 74 Relocation Project Logo

Description

The N.C. Department of Transportation is proposing to relocate U.S. 74 from Robbinsville to Stecoah in Graham County. This project is part of NCDOT Transportation Improvement Program Project No. A-9.

NCDOT is currently studying the B and C portions of the project, which include constructing a four-lane, divided highway from U.S. 129 in Robbinsville to N.C. 28 in Stecoah. Section A begins in Cherokee County with a proposed terminus in Andrews and extends north into Graham County with a proposed terminus in Robbinsville. Section D has already been constructed. It begins in Stecoah and extends east into Swain County, terminating in Almond.

According to the Draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin in 2014 and construction of the B section is scheduled to begin in 2016. However, based on recent project activities, the schedule will be revised.

News and Updates

This Web page provides detailed project information and a forum for answering the questions of citizens and other interested parties along the A-9 BC project. This Web page will be updated as project development continues. We encourage you to visit this Web page often for it will have the most up to date information regarding public meetings, project milestones and project progress.

  • NCDOT will hold an open house and public hearing on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at Robbinsville High School, located at 301 Sweetwater Road in Robbinsville. The pre-hearing open house will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Citizens are invited to drop by at any time during those hours to view project maps and speak with NCDOT representatives in an informal setting. The formal public hearing will begin at 7 p.m.
  • In recognition of the need to resolve concerns and issues between agencies, the project team has engaged the services of an impartial third party. The U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution conducted interviews with federal and state agency representatives and local officials to identify key issues and views about next steps.
  • NCDOT has completed its study of the possible widening of N.C. 28 and N.C. 143.
    • Click here for a summary of the completed study.
    • Click here for the full-length detailed study report.
  • The study of the possible widening of N.C. 28 and N.C. 143 was performed based on a request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.C. Division of Water Quality. The additional study was required after a majority of people who spoke at the public hearing in October 2009 and sent comments to NCDOT and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers voiced their opposition to the project.

Press Releases

  • No recent news releases.

Change in Appalachian Development Highway System funds distribution formula

Exemption of ADHS funds from equity formula

Prior to July 1, funds received under the Appalachian Development Program were subject to the equity formula. Under this formula, every highway division in the state received a portion of the $30 million in Appalachian Development Highway System funds received by N.C. annually and intended for the state’s 23 ARC-designated counties. A recent change in statute has exempted ADHS funds from the equity distribution law.

The state is currently in the process of researching what the new legislation means for the schedule of projects in the ARC region and across the state. At present, the U.S. 74 Relocation project is one of only two routes that are eligible for ADHS funds in North Carolina. One impact of the recent change in statute on this project is the establishment of a separate funding pool, so the U.S. 74 Relocation project will not take away funds from other division projects.

The project is still in the development phase and the process of selecting a preferred alternative is ongoing. Right-of-way acquisition is not currently scheduled to take place until 2014, and may be delayed further by the additional alternative evaluations.

Project Overview and Purpose

The relocation of U.S. 74 would improve highway capacity and provide Graham County with a four-lane connection to Asheville and I-40. It would also help support economic and social development in the county, and enhance safety by providing a highway with adequate shoulders and alignments that meet modern standards. All of the existing roads in Graham County, with the exception of a segment of N.C. 28, are two-lane roads that traverse steep grades and include sharp curves.

U.S. 74 is part of the North Carolina Intrastate System established by the Highway Trust Fund Act of 1989 (North Carolina General Statute 136-175 through 136-189) to provide high-speed, safe travel service throughout the state. The route currently crosses the Nantahala Gorge, and experiences congestion and a high number of pedestrians during the rafting season from March through October. In future years, the roadway is expected to face increasingly heavy traffic, longer delays and a higher potential for accidents. This project would relocate U.S. 74 away from the Gorge, increasing intrastate mobility and improving safety.

Economic Contribution

The proposed project is part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, which aims to foster economic development in the Appalachian region, and it would complete a missing link in Appalachian Highway Corridor K.

Relocating U.S. 74 would help support the local economy by:

  • Helping maintain the tax base by improving access to jobs outside the county, allowing commuters to continue living in Graham County rather than moving to another area;
  • Providing a multi-lane facility that would help attract manufacturing and industrial employers;
  • Increasing accessibility to medical facilities, which would make the area more attractive to an older population; and
  • Making Graham County a more appealing destination for travelers by reducing travel time and increasing accessibility

The project would help generate both short-term (construction-related) and long-term economic benefits. Construction of the project would be a multi-year effort, which would help provide opportunities for substantial short-term employment within Graham County and the immediate region. In addition, a large portion of jobs generated by wage expenditures (wages paid for construction jobs) are also likely to be based in the region.

Based on an estimated construction cost for the Recommended Alternative (Alternative YX) and a five-year construction duration, the A-9 B & C project is expected to generate 2,300 jobs in the region per year for those five years, including construction, manufacturing and vending jobs, as well as opportunities created to meet the demand for goods and services by those employed in new construction-related jobs. In a county with a population of 7,993 people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), this would provide a substantial boost for the local economy.

For more detailed background information regarding the economic condition of Graham County, please click here.

Project Highlights

Environmental studies for the entire A-9 project were originally conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The results of the studies were summarized in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which was completed in 1984. This document analyzed eight build alternatives for the entire A-9 corridor from Andrews to Almond and identified a Recommended Alternative.

Due to time lapse, a reevaluation of the 1984 FEIS was conducted for the D portion and finalized in 1995. In June 2008, a Draft Supplemental FEIS was completed to address the potential environmental impacts associated with the B and C sections from U.S. 129 in Robbinsville to N.C. 28 in Stecoah. These studies re-examined the 1984 FEIS Recommended Alternative as adjusted to meet current design standards, as well as developed and studied multiple new build alternatives. In addition, planning and design work conducted since 1995 has involved extensive coordination with resource and regulatory agencies. The reevaluation of the A section from U.S. 129 to U.S. 74 in Andrews has been deferred.

NEPA/404 Merger Process – In an effort to streamline the environmental planning and permitting process, the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) developed an interagency agreement integrating the environmental screening requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the USACE Section 404 permitting process. This process is known as the NEPA/404 Merger Process.

The NEPA/404 Merger Process allows federal and state environmental regulatory agencies to participate in the transportation decision-making process. The process includes milestones called “concurrence points” that help make key decisions in the NEPA process. The NEPA/404 Merger Team meets on each of the following concurrence points: 1) Purpose & Need and Study Area; 2) Detailed Study Alternatives; 2A) Bridging Decisions & Alignment Review; 3) Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA); 4A) Avoidance & Minimization; 4B) 30 Percent Hydraulic Review; and 4C) Permit Drawings Review. The decisions and studies resulting from all agency coordination efforts, including Concurrence Points 1, 2, and 2A comprise the information contained in the Draft Supplemental FEIS.

Alternatives – The Draft Supplemental FEIS re-examines the B and C sections of the 1984 FEIS Recommended Alternative, as well as a range of preliminary build alternatives, a No-Build Alternative, an Improve Existing Alternative, and four detailed study alternatives selected for detailed study by the NEPA/404 Merger Team.

The Improve Existing Alternative in the Draft Supplemental FEIS examines the option of upgrading existing U.S. 74 through the Nantahala Gorge. This action was not considered to be reasonable and feasible due to the extent of environmental effects on the Gorge and because it was not consistent with the proposed project’s purpose of improving access to Graham County.

The document also examines improving the existing alignments of N.C. 143 and N.C. 28. Approximately 25 percent of the length of each build alternative would improve existing N.C. 143 through the Sweetwater Valley area. The proposed road is a four-lane, divided highway with a proposed speed of 55 miles per hour and following the existing alignments of N.C. 143 and N.C. 28 in their entirety is not possible primarily due to tight curves, a ninety-degree turn at N.C. 143 and N.C. 28 and grade issues. In addition, widening the eastern portion of N.C. 143 through Stecoah Gap would have resulted in greater impacts to U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands, the Appalachian Trail and area streams. It also would have affected the Stecoah community and its historic resources.

Avoidance and Minimization Efforts – The following paragraphs detail the avoidance and minimization measures developed through coordination with the USFS and the NEPA/404 Merger Team.

The preliminary design of each build alternative was developed to avoid stream and wetland impacts to the maximum extent practicable. This effort included shifting the alignment to the southeast along N.C. 143 to avoid impacts to the segment of Sweetwater Creek that runs parallel to N.C. 143. This shift eliminated considerable stream and wetland impacts for all build alternatives.

Stream impacts were minimized by the use of bridges; five of the eight recommended drainage structures for each build alternative are bridge structures. In particular, impacts to Stecoah Creek were minimized by the use of a bridge. The NEPA/404 Merger Team selected a long bridge structure for the Stecoah Creek crossing, which reduced potential stream impacts at this location by 1,091 feet for Alternatives X and YX and by 158 feet for Alternatives Y and XY. These bridges would also serve as animal passages. Where possible, rechannelization or modification of streams will utilize natural channel design. Additionally, for three years after grading activities are completed, water quality monitoring will be conducted in local trout streams.

After discussing many options and developing multiple concepts, a tunnel was incorporated into the proposed project in 1998 to avoid impacts to the Appalachian Trail. Any non-tunnel alternative would greatly open up cuts in the mountainside resulting in substantial impacts to the environment, USFS lands and the Appalachian Trail.

As part of a USFS mitigation measure to minimize visual impacts, the NCDOT will coordinate with the USFS on a planting plan that will consist of native shrubs and trees to replicate the vegetative mix of the surrounding forest. The implementation of a planting plan would also help minimize erosion and sedimentation effects in area water bodies and prevent the spread of invasive species.

The power distribution line that crosses the Appalachian Trail northeast of Stecoah Gap would be partially relocated along the N.C. 143 corridor. Approximately 1,300 feet of the existing powerline would be relocated along N.C. 143 for a distance of approximately 3,850 feet. Construction of the partial relocation would occur at the same time as construction of the C portion of the project, allowing viewable sections of the existing powerline right of way to re-vegetate and screen views of the project from the Appalachian Trail.

The tunnel entrances would be faced with natural-appearing material. Buildings at the ends of the tunnel would be of a design, finish material and color that harmonize with the surrounding natural landscape, i.e. wood, stone, or similar material. The final design will be coordinated with a USFS landscape architect. Blasting techniques that create a natural appearance would be employed during construction.

To avoid the potential for impacts to the Indiana bat and protect suitable roosting trees, the clearing of trees will begin no earlier than October 15 and will be completed by the beginning of the Indiana bat roosting season on April 15.

Public Involvement – As a part of the planning process, NCDOT periodically holds informational meetings with the public. Since 2008, three Pre-Hearing Workshops, one Formal Public Hearing and three Local Officials Meetings have been held for this project. In general, local citizens have been in favor of the proposed project, citing the county’s economic conditions ands limited accessibility as their primary reasons for support.

Project Schedule and Funding – The Draft Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the A-9 B and C project was approved in June 2008 and made available for public comment on August 29, 2008. The comment period ended on October 14, 2008.

The Final Supplemental FEIS is anticipated to be finalized in late 2012 and the Record of Decision finalized in 2013. Right-of-way acquisition for the proposed project is scheduled for 2014 with construction of the B section scheduled to begin in 2016.

Funding for the proposed project would include federal funds allocated for Appalachian Regional Development projects as well as other federal highway funds.

Exemption of ADHS funds from equity formula – Prior to July 1, funds received under the Appalachian Development Program were subject to the equity formula. Under this formula, every highway division in the state received a portion of the $30 million in Appalachian Development Highway System funds received by N.C. annually and intended for the state’s 23 ARC-designated counties. A recent change in statute has exempted ADHS funds from the equity distribution law, so the money will now only be distributed to the 23 qualifying counties in N.C.

The state is currently in the process of researching what the new legislation means for the schedule of projects in the ARC region and across the state. At present, the U.S. 74 Relocation project is one of only two routes that are eligible for ADHS funds in North Carolina. One impact of the recent change in statute on this project is the establishment of a separate funding pool, so the U.S. 74 Relocation project will not take away funds from other division projects.

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Contact Information

Comments and suggestions are considered and documented throughout the entire study process. You may contact the U.S. 74 Relocation Study Team or NCDOT:

Marshall Edwards
NCDOT Project Development and Environmental Analysis

  • Address: 1548 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1548
  • Phone: (919) 707-6019
  • Email: Contact Us

Amy Sackaroff, AICP
Stantec Consulting

  • Address: 801 Jones Franklin Road, Suite 300, Raleigh, NC 27606

Resources for Local Property Owners

In many cases, it is inevitable that a certain amount of private property must be acquired. The displacement of homes and businesses is minimized to the extent practicable. The following brochures will answer questions about this process.