Send comments for consideration by Sept. 13
With visions of the scarred US 64 corridor through the Lake Toxaway area fresh in their minds, many who attended the Department of Transportation’s NC 106 presentation last Thursday, arrived with the predisposition that changing the corridor in any way should be avoided at all costs. Others said they “liked some aspects and disliked others.”
Aspects of the modernization include widening the 10-mile section of the road from Spring Street to the Georgia line to include a 40-foot right-of-way along both sides of the road. Widening is needed to harden shoulders; construct pull-off areas for passing vehicles; for intersection realignment in three areas; and to build a sidewalk running along the east side of the road from Spring Street where it now ends to a little past Hummingbird Lane.
NCDOT gets mixed reactions to proposed NC 106 ‘modernization’ Send comments for consideration by Sept. 13. The widening includes hardened shoulders on both sides as well as culverts installed or replaced in numerous areas along the stretch to handle water runoff and eliminate washouts.
Though people traditionally plea with Highlands town officials to extend sidewalks in town, surprisingly, according to NCDOT officials on site, many were against the sidewalk element.
And then some people wanted to know why any of this is necessary at all.
“Highlands is a unique place that contributes to the diversity of North Carolina. Our smaller scenic highways are a part of that uniqueness. A similar project in Lake Toxaway has ruined that feel. I am completely against this project,” said Andrea Schmitt.
Likewise said George Powell, who voiced both pros and cons.
“This road serves only one town at the end of the 10-mile stretch. Highlands is dependent on the natural beauty that surrounds it. Any impact on that natural beauty will have a negative impact which will reduce the exclusivity of its appeal,” he said.
But according to NCDOT Project Development Engineer Wanda Austin, the modernization of NC 106 wouldn’t look anything like what’s happened to US 64 through Toxaway where numerous curves have been straightened by chopping off the faces of mountains.
She said the project isn’t as drastic and they would likely build walls rather than construct the road the Toxaway way. Plans for that project were established and put in motion over a decade ago – similar to the current NC 106 timeline which was started in 2017 and if funded will begin in 2027.
“Construction practices have changed,” she said. NCDOT said the need to modernize the NC 106 corridor is due to vehicle traffic which is steadily increasing each year.
Changes to NC 106 might alleviate tractor-trailer traffic on the Gorge Road since signage and turnarounds at the base of the mountain in Franklin, clearly aren’t working, as pointed out by Mayor Pat Taylor at a recent Town Board meeting.
Powell said it’s true that NC 106 is a supply line and work force corridor to Highlands and it needs to be safe, practical and accessible in inclement conditions.
According to NCDOT, daily traffic on NC 106 ranged from 3,100 to 7,200 vehicles per day in 2017 and is forecast to increase to 5,600 to 12,700 vehicles per day by 2040.
Therefore, truck passing lanes are proposed to ease congestion and improve safety as are turn lanes at intersections – like those currently at Main Street and NC 106, as well as the widening of the existing lanes to current standards to improve shoulders and accommodate sidewalks in some areas.
Intersection realignments and improved sight-lines are proposed for three roads bisecting NC 106 – Ritchie Road, Hale Ridge Road and at Hudson/Cobb. An alignment “straightening” is proposed for just two areas – one of which is at the Blue Valley Overlook and the other is in the vicinity of the Chinquapin Trail head at NC 106.
More than the 40-foot right-of-way widening is proposed in three areas to construct truck-passing lanes – just north of Rockledge Road, just north of King Gap Road, and near Bartram Way. There are four aspects to the project schedule – Concept Development which began the winter of 2017; Public Overview which began the summer of 2018; Planning & Design which will take place the winter of 2019 and includes a feasibility study and the funding decision; and the final Preconstruction phase the fall of 2025 which will start with the right-of-way acquisitions and end with construction beginning the spring of 2027.
Interestingly, unlike donated rights-of-way on secondary roads, property owners on primary roads like NC 106 would be monetarily compensated for the 40-foot right-of-way or more they are requested to relinquish.
“The property will be appraised and if we can’t settle with the property owner there are five levels of mediation we can go through, eventually going to court if we have to,” said Austin. “A property owner trying to block this would make the process take longer, but we would eventually settle.”
To be funded, the project must make it through the prioritization process which includes “points” given for economic development, alleviating congestion, the need for lane width and shoulder hardening, local feedback, support from elected officials as well as NCDOT personnel.
If funded, construction would begin in 2027 and likely continue for three years.
NC DOT officials said they will know in Dec. 2018/ Jan. 2019 whether the project will get the green light or be put on hold. Comments are requested by Sept. 13 and will be reviewed for one month prior to being posted on the NCDOT website.
Send comments by post to: Anne-Lenart Redmond, Project Manager, STV Engineers, Inc. 1600 Perimeter Park Drive, Suite 225, Morrisville, NC 27560 or email: anne. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The bridge over Middle Creek is separate from the NC 106 plan; it’s already in the pipeline and work will begin on it prior to 2027.
– Article and photos by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper