Smart Roads Alliance
The Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance was formed in 2002 in response to a proposal by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to build a new $132 million* highway through the middle of our most precious and beautiful rural county. Our goal since 2002 has been to work together as a community and create smart solutions to our traffic and transportation issues. (* $132 million construction cost source: NCDOT 2008)
For the latest news and information:
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North Carolina Department of Transportation
NCDOT is planning to build the $132 million Southern Loop Bypass (NC 107 Connector) from US 23-74 in Balsam to NC 107 between Sylva and Cullowhee - NCDOT project STIP R-4745 is funded and construction will begin in 2016 unless the public demands other solutions.
Other important articles with background information:
2009 - Smart Roads Alliance Position: Jackson County Comprehensive Transportation Plan
2008 - Construction on 23-74/107 connector could begin in 2015
2008 - Smart Roads Files Compaint Over Southern Loop
2008 - Smart Roads Event Discusses Alternatives to Southern Loop
2007 - Leaders, citizens demand input as road plan progresses
2007 - Southern Loop Opposition Mounts
2007 - Burrell, Setzer Plug Plan for Southern Loop (ignoring public outcry and towns' wishes)
2007 - Southern Loop On Priority List, Transportation Advisory Committee Disagrees
2007 - STIP Includes Funding For Portion of Southern Loop
2003 - "Who will decide the future growth of Jackson County?"
2003 - Sylva, Dillsboro Join Official Opposition to Southern Loop (The Resolutions)
2002 - Smart Roads Alliance Formed
2001 - NCDOT Division 14 Engineer Ron Watson updates EDC on 'southern loop' status
2001 - Southern Loop Feasibility Study Approved
The original proposed new highway project would have cost over $230* million to construct ($26 million per mile) and continued to US 23-441 through Webster. The Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance was instrumental in getting the Webster portion of the bypass removed from the R-4745 plan. (* NCDOT 2001 estimate)
Visit our Community News Archive or Search Blog to view older articles (since 2007).
You may post or read comments for any news item.
For older news articles (2000 - 2007) click here.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
From the Tuckasegee Reader:
Jackson County Board 4-4: meeting story
by Giles Morris on April 5, 2011
Jackson County Chairman Jack Debnam announced that the board of commissioners would hold two important work sessions at the Jackson County Justice and Administration Building prior to its meeting on April 18.
The board will meet to discuss and rank its road-building priorities to be submitted to the North Carolina Department of Transportation as part of its 10-year Transportation Improvement Plan at 3:30 p.m.
Ryan Sherby of the Southwestern Regional Planning Commission offered commissioners a recap of the NCDOT transportation prioritization process, touching on the difference between the department’s five-year work program, the seven-year project queue, and the ten-year project priority rankings.
Sherby said the NC 107 Connector project was scheduled for right of way purchase funding but not for construction funding. He said for the project to move forward it would have to be placed on the county’s latest priority list, which commissioners will address during their April 18 work session.
After the meeting, Sylva Herald reporter Nick Breedlove asked each commissioner whether they supported the idea of the NC 107 Connector project.
Commissioner Cowan said he did. Commissioner Mark Jones said he intended to keep it on his priority list but he was not sure how high he would rank it. Chairman Jack Debnam said he wasn’t yet sure where he stood on the project. Commissioners Elders and Cody also said they were not sure where they stood on the project, though Cody suggested he believed the road should not be built in its proposed location."
View the entire article here:
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners will hold a Special Meeting on March 10th at 9:00 a.m. in the Board Room of Municipal Hall, 83 Allen Street. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the Comprehensive Transportation Plan."
This meeting will cover transportation planning for the Town of Sylva and includes concerns about NC 107 and the Sylva Bypass (aka Southern Loop Bypass, aka NC 107 Connector).
THE PUBLIC IS ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND THIS IMPORTANT MEETING!
RSVP with Facebook
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Smart Roads wants to have a big presence at the two March commissioners' meetings because the county commissioners have to choose priorities for DOT projects by April and the bypass/connector is one of their potential choices. The first meeting is Monday, March 7 at 2 pm at the Justice Center; the second is Monday, March 21 at 6 PM. Please come out and make your concerns known during the public comment session.
See you Monday!
Lydia and Jeannette
County commissioner meetings are held upstairs in the Jackson County Justice & Administration Annex building, above the Sheriff's offices (entrance is towards the left of the main Justice Center/court rooms building. We'd love to see as many folks out as possible at the March 7 (2pm) and March 21 (6pm) meetings, please help spread the word.
Please contact our local representatives.
Contact and meeting information.
First Monday (March 7) -- 2:00 p.m.
Third Monday (March 21) -- 6:00 p.m.
Walter J. Debnam “Jack”, Chairman Countywide (exp. 2014)
50 Mudpuppy Ln
Sylva, NC 28779
Charles R. Elders, Commissioner--District 1 (exp. 2014)
4668 US 74 W (r)
Whittier, NC 28789
PO Box 2099
Sylva NC 28779
Joe Cowan, Commissioner--District 3 (exp. 2012)
PO Box 265
Webster NC 28788
Douglas L. Cody “Doug) Commissioner--District 2 (exp. 2014)
75 Onion Patch Lane
PO Box 204
Sylva NC 28779
Mark R. Jones, Commissioner--District 4 (exp. 2012)
PO Box 2164
Cashiers NC 28717
Clerk to Board
401 Grindstaff Cove Road, Suite A-207
Sylva NC 28779
J.K. Coward, “Jay”
Attorney for Jackson County
705 West Main Street
Sylva NC 28779
Friday, February 4, 2011
Next Smart Roads meeting, Tuesday, February 8th 6:30 @ City Lights.
Smart Roads gave a presentation to the Planning Board January 11th. We were not successful in convincing them to remove the By-Pass from the County's priority list. However, they did manage to put it at the bottom of their list.
But really, the Planning Board's list is only a recommendation for the Commissioners. The Commissioners are going to create their own priority list. To help the Commissioners prioritize, Smart Roads is attempting to get onto their agenda for their Feb. 21st meeting at 6pm.
I know you all have been real supportive in the past, but this is a new Board and we have to again show them how this community feels about the By-Pass. Again we are asking everybody to show up for the Commissioner Meeting Monday, February 21st at 6pm whether we are on the agenda or not and we'll just have to present our ideas during the public input session that now follows the regularly scheduled meetings.
Here is a link to the Tuckreader article that covered the Planning Board Meeting and their priorities.
This is a copy of the recommendations we are presenting to the Commissioners.
Smart Roads recommends these projects from the Jackson County Comprehensive Transportation Plan become the top projects for the County.
1. ID No. Jackson 01: NC 107 – Proposed improvements from US 23 to 4-lane divided cross-section south of Lovedale Road .
2. ID No. Jackson 18: US 74 and US 23 Business - Additional ramp to accommodate traffic from US 23 Business desiring to go west on US 74.
Smart Roads recommends expanding the study location for this Western Ramp to include the section of Cope Creek that runs parallel to US 23/74. This will help accommodate west bound traffic from either Cope Creek or US 23. For example, for traffic going west, cars could either take Cope Creek, turn left onto the Cope Creek parallel road and board the western on ramp; or cars traveling on Asheville Hwy could turn right onto the same parallel road and approach the US 23/74 west bound on ramp. There’s an advantage to expanding the study area because NCDOT is reluctant to build a west bound on ramp directly off of US 23. The topography of the area is restrictive. If the study area is expanded a west bound on ramp could become more feasible.
3. ID No, Jackson 03: Us 64 in Cashiers – proposed improvements from NC 107 to SR 117, widening from 2-lanes to 3-lanes with a round-a-bout at the NC 107 intersection.
4. ID No. Jackson 02: Asheville Highway, US 23 Business – Proposed improvements from Hospital Road to NC 107, widening to a 4-lane divided boulevard facility.
5. ID No. Jackson 13: US 441 and NC 116 intersection – Proposed interchange in the area of Cagle Branch Road and Hall Town Road .
Smart Roads also advises that Municipal Drive be added to the CTP. There was a lesson learned when Municipal Drive was closed when they were expanding the Fire Station. Back Street became deficient during peak hours without Municipal Drive which accommodates west bound traffic through Sylva.
Hope to see you all there!
You may RSVP to the meeting: CLICK HERE
P.S. You can now follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Friday, January 14, 2011
by Giles Morris on January 14, 2011
The Tuckasegee Reader
SYLVA –– The Jackson County Planning Board met Thursday to prioritize the county’s Department of Transportation projects. In the end, the board elected to pass six projects along to the Southwestern Regional Planning Commission (RPO) to be included in its regional priority list, which it generates every two years.
Topping the priority list were the proposed improvements to N.C. 107 from its intersection with U.S. 23 to its intersection at Lovedale Rd., which were the focal point of an NCDOT information session in November.
Five other projects made the priority list, including the proposed construction of a westbound on-ramp to U.S. 23/74 from the Asheville Highway and the proposed improvement of the Cashiers Crossroads at U.S. 64 and N.C. 107, a project that would include a new roundabout there.
The significance of the planning board’s priority list is not totally clear, since NCDOT’s Strategic Prioritization Office of Transportation (SPOT) will ultimately use a regional priority list developed by the Southwestern Planning Commission and a list from NC DOT’s Division 14 to develop its final list for the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).
To read all articles in our series about N.C. highway 107 click here.
Still, the rankings are significant insofar as they provide a venue for the county to show the NC DOT where its priorities lie.
For that reason, the Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance, a community organization that formed during the controversial early stages of the N.C. 107 Bypass planning process, attended Thursday’s meeting to let the board know how they viewed the priority list. In the NC DOT’s current conceptual plans, the Bypass would connect U.S. 23/74 and N.C. 107 with a new road somewhere between US 23 Business and Wayehutta Rd.
Jeannette Evans of Smart Roads, who also served on the Jackson County Comprehensive Transportation Plan task force, presented the organization’s positions on Thursday night.
Ultimately, her point was that the planning board should look long and hard at the all of the impacts of the proposed Bypass when it considered how to prioritize the project and to consider implementing alternative ways to alleviate traffic on N.C. 107.
“A lot of the projects we came up with in the task force process were specifically geared to alleviate congestion on N.C. 107 so prioritizing these projects is a real benefit,” Evans said.
Evans emphasized that the board needed to take into account the economic and environmental impacts of all the proposed projects, in addition to the way they would affect traffic patterns.
The planning board included the Bypass as the sixth ranked project on its list.
Ryan Sherby, who will compile the regional priority list for the Southwestern RPO to be submitted to the state in the summer, said the inclusion of the Bypass on the list and its low ranking sent a mixed message.
“It doesn’t show strong support for the project from the planning board, but I don’t know how [Division 14] will rank it in its Top 50,” Sherby said. “If the Bypass didn’t show up at all it would probably send a message that the planning board doesn’t support the project.”
Sherby added that the newly-elected Jackson County commissioners will have a say in the matter.
“I am still trying to get the new commissioners up to speed on a project that has a long history,” Sherby said. “I don’t have a sense on where the new commissioners see the project in their priorities.”
The planning board was split on the Bypass in its blind numerical ranking system, with three members listing it as their top priority and three others placing at the bottom.
While the Bypass plan has dominated the spotlight in Jackson County planning discussion during recent years, the widening and improvement of N.C. 107 is also a potentially controversial project, since it will impact over 85 local businesses on Sylva’s primary commercial artery. [Ed. note: When reading this statement, I think it is important to add that the referenced NCDOT plan does not include any road improvements projects proposed by the Jackson County Transportation Task Force and included in the CTP, that specifically target congestion on NC 107.]
Sherby said he planned to consult the Jackson County representative of the RPO Transportation Advisory Committee, yet to be named, about how to weight the recommendations on the planning board’s priority list, before he makes any determinations himself.
Sherby will then use pre-developed metrics to rank regional projects from the six counties in the Southwestern Planning Commission’s area. Counties that have already adopted comprehensive transportation plans, like Jackson County, have the potential to score the most points according to the metric.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Public absent in meetings where road projects decided
Written by Quintin Ellison
Smoky Mountain News
The way road projects get selected and prioritized in the state’s six westernmost counties might shift slightly following meetings this week and last by local government officials and transportation experts.
The method of weighing the projects will be tweaked to heighten safety issues. Crash data compiled by the state Highway Patrol will be factored into the equation. Elected officials serving on the Transportation Advisory Committee said, however, they want to see what that actually does to the alignment of projects before endorsing the approach.
How exactly the state Department of Transportation moves forward on road building and road improving has raised pointed questions recently about political and personal gain versus public good and needs. Controversy in the past couple months erupted over two projects in particular: Needmore Road in Swain and Macon counties and N.C. 107 in Jackson County.
The transportation department has proposed paving and widening a 3.3-mile section of Needmore, a gravel one-lane road beside the Little Tennessee River. Needmore cuts through the protected Needmore Game Lands, and opponents say the environmental risks posed are simply too great (see accompanying article on page 9).
In Sylva, the transportation department this month held a public information session on how traffic on N.C. 107 between Sylva and Cullowhee could be reduced. Concepts included widening and building a whole new connector road. At least 200 people turned out for the session, and Smart Roads, a local activist group, promised to monitor and publicize the process going forward.
For all the outcries, no one from the public was present at either of two meetings where a bit of the rubber meets the road when it comes to transportation projects in the far west: Jackson, Macon, Swain, Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties. One meeting was for county and town planners and other government officials, a second was held Monday night for county commissioners and town council members.
Southwestern Development Commission, a regional planning group headquartered in Sylva, organized the get-togethers.
Who does the planning?
In the state’s six westernmost counties, road planning is headed up by the Southwestern Development Commission, headquartered in Sylva, which serves as the lead-planning agency for the rural transportation planning organization (RPO).
Southwestern Commission provides staff and GIS (geographic information system) support. The RPO consists of a technical coordinating committee (government officials) and a transportation advisory committee (elected officials). The government officials, as in real life, exist simply to make staff-level recommendations to the elected officials, who make the policies.
Here are the stated goals of the RPO:
• To provide a forum for public participation in the rural transportation planning process and serve as a local link for residents of the region to communicate with the transportation department.
• To develop, prioritize and promote proposed transportation projects that the RPO believes should be included in the State Transportation Improvement Program.
• To assist the transportation department in publicizing its programs and service and providing additional transportation-related information to local governments and other interested organizations and persons.
• To conduct transportation-related studies and surveys for local governments and other interested entities and organizations.
• To promote transportation as a regional issue requiring regional solutions.
Please visit the Smoky Mountain News, Western North Carolina's source for award-winning weekly news, entertainment, arts, and outdoor information.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
by Mark Jamison on November 14, 2010
WEBSTER – I’m told a recent comment I attached to a story on Tuckreader.com garnered some attention.
My comment, focused on the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s recent workshop concerning the NC 107 corridor, discussed the need for a community-based planning process rather than a process driven by service institutions like NCDOT.
I recognize that on the statewide level this can be a complicated idea, but the general premise is that state agencies like NCDOT shouldn’t dictate solutions to local communities, but should assist communities in realizing their aspirations by providing appropriate infrastructure and assistance.
This week I also had a letter to the editor in the Sylva Herald that addressed some of the planning challenges facing Webster, the town where I live and serve on the governing board. Webster administers a large extra-territorial jurisdiction and has, over the years annexed areas in the NC 116-NC 107 corridor, primarily as a means of controlling growth. The fit has not been good, mainly because Webster has neither the governmental resources not planning infrastructure to administer some of these areas. The town has taken in uses it specifically wishes to avoid and cannot properly administer as a means of protecting its vision and identity.
There is a central premise connecting the two pieces, that planning is essential for communities in order for them to both define themselves and realize their aspirations. Further, the planning process must be driven by the proper institutions. Local governing boards, informed by the residents of the community, ought to be the primary drivers of the process that defines how a community will look, what it will be. That is why counties municipalities have planning boards.
These boards, working with technical assistance, ought to bring forth plans, ideas and proposals that will guide development. Service agencies like NCDOT need to participate in this process to provide technical expertise, information and guidance on what can be practically achieved.
The vicinity of the intersection of NC 116 and NC 107 is populated by an important and interesting mix of entities. There is a tremendous amount of government infrastructure there in the presence of Southwestern Community College, the Jackson County Services Park, the Jackson County Schools and NCDOT facilities. The area is also home to Smoky Mountain Mental Health, Reedwood Manor, the Southwest Regional Commission and various residential properties. If one expands out from the intersection along NC 107 there is an area in Sylva that is home to commercial and retail development backed by residential. In the other direction there are the residential communities of Fairview and Ashe Loop and Rivercrest. There is also a significant amount of industrial and commercial land in this area that is ripe for development.
Presently the only entity exercising any kind of development standards on the area is Webster – and that presence is minimal. This is an area with important and valuable community services and governmental infrastructure, it is an area surrounded by sensitive residential communities, and it is an area that can expect to see significant additional high impact development that will only exacerbate traffic and density problems. And yet we have no planning efforts specific to this area.
I have, for at least a couple of years, suggested that this area would be ideal for a joint planning task force including municipal, county and institutional entities as well as representatives from adjoining residential communities. The state of North Carolina provides for such an entity and also provides for the creation of a Community Based District where development standards can be applied. The Cashiers Development District was constructed under the latter statutes. Such a district need be 640 acres or more and have at least ten distinct property owners.
A Community District is not a taxing body, it levies no taxes. It is administered through a special planning board made of members of the district with the assistance of county staff. It appears that municipalities may contribute territory to such a district. That territory would be subject to the development standards of the district but would remain within the boundaries of the municipalities for the purposes of taxation and provision of services.
I think it would be hugely beneficial for the county and adjoining municipalities to look at forming a joint planning agency with a goal of developing a specific vision for this critical area and creating an appropriate administrative regimen for the district. One of the goals of such a planning agency ought to be to work with NCDOT and other supporting agencies and institutions to develop appropriate plans for infrastructure improvement and development in a specific community or area.
I would challenge the state of North Carolina to adjust its hierarchical arrangements with respect to the way NCDOT interfaces with the community to allow local DOT representatives to sit on and assist this planning group in developing adjustments to our current roads that would be responsive to the community’s vision. Perhaps our state legislators need to be a part of this process rather than sitting on the sideline letting the bureaucracy idle along.
Our current approach to road infrastructure pays no attention to future growth patterns or to the fact that planning vehicles and structures exist or can be created that could help focus growth in a way that leads to less costly infrastructure and infrastructure that enhances rather than impacts.
The NC 116–NC 107 corridor impacts a significant number of people, business and institutions. It is a gateway area and currently it is an area that lacks a coherent vision and direction. The result is that it is an area that is subject to increasing congestion, costly infrastructure development and increasingly negative impacts on area. A joint planning group charged with developing a vision and a plan for an area is desperately needed and well within our power to create.
Please visit the Tuckasegee Reader for this and other articles related to issues in Jackson County, North Carolina.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Our goal is to work together as a community and create smart solutions to our traffic and transportation issues. Working together, as a community, we have a strong voice! Community is what Smart Roads is all about.
Your comments are extremely important. Please take a moment to send your comments via e-mail or regular mail. Please ask your friends, family, neighbors and anyone else you may know to submit their comments, concerns, questions and ideas.
Comments about these road projects should be sent by
** December 9, 2010 ** to the following addresses:
Mr. Derrick Lewis, P.E
NCDOT-Feasability Studies Unit
1534 Mail CenterRaleigh, NC 27699-1534
Mr. Mark Reep, P.E.
Florence & Hutcheson, Inc.
5121 Kingdom Way, Suite 100
Raleigh, NC 27609
Remember to make multiple copies of all comments! Send a copy to County Government, Town Government, the Governor of North Carolina, the newspapers/media and anybody else you can think of. Also Smart Roads would like a copy for our permanent data base.
If you would like to get more involved or would like more detailed information about transportation issues effecting our community, please visit our website at:
You can also join our Facebook group at:
Thank you for being involved and please help us spread the word!
Additional background information:
NC 107 Connector aka the Southern Loop Bypass
Jackson County Transportation Task Force and the Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) Updates:
Goals and Objectives Survey Results for the Jackson County Comprehensive Transportation Plan:
(Published June 2008)
Sylva's Street Plan Concept (not adopted):
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Information session on ‘fixing’ N.C. 107 set for next week
Written by Quintin Ellison
Smoky Mountain News
Wednesday, 03 November 2010
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL STORY AT SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
Are you ready to rumble? Because here we go again: The great debate in Jackson County on whether traffic congestion along N.C. 107 in Sylva should be fixed, and if so — how — is back.
Since the summer of 2008, the state Department of Transportation has conducted separate traffic studies, each intended to explore different fixes to the same problem.
The preliminary results of one of those studies is about to go public: potential redesigns of N.C. 107, Sylva’s major traffic corridor, which takes in the primary portion of the county that is experiencing business growth. The targeted stretch extends from U.S. 23 Business in Sylva to Western Carolina University.
On Tuesday, Nov. 9, state DOT officials will hold what’s being dubbed an “informal meeting” in Sylva. They intend to publicly layout what they claim must be done if N.C. 107 is truly going to be fixed.
There are six concepts on the table. Three of those concepts would include building an additional road, the controversial Southern Loop, since renamed the friendlier-sounding (and the transportation department claims, more accurate) “N.C. 107 connector.”
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL STORY AT SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
WHAT: Informational meeting on fixing traffic problems on N.C. 107 in Sylva.
WHERE: Balsam Center (Myers Auditorium lobby), Jackson County campus of Southwestern Community College, 447 College Road in Sylva.
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 9, from 5-7 p.m.
WHY: To share six “concepts” that could fix perceived traffic-flow issues.
WHO: Sponsored by the state Department of Transportation.
Monday, October 25, 2010
NOTICE OF A CITIZENS INFORMATIONAL WORKSHOP
FOR PROPOSED NC 107 UPGRADES FROM US 23 BUSINESS IN SYLVA
TO WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY
TIP Project No. FS-0814A WBS No. 34263.1.1 Jackson County
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will hold a public meeting, known as a Citizens Informational Workshop, for the above mentioned highway project, on Tuesday, November 9, 2010. This public meeting will be held at Southwestern Community College, Jackson Campus, in the Balsam Center (Myers Auditorium lobby), located at 447 College Road, in Sylva, beginning at 5:00 pm and ending at 7:00 pm.
The purpose of this Citizens Informational Workshop is to provide information regarding the proposed project and to obtain public input. The project is currently in the “feasibility study” stage to identify ways to address traffic congestion and improve mobility along NC 107 from US 23 Business in Sylva to Western Carolina University in Jackson County .
Interested citizens may drop by anytime between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm and view the project maps on display. NCDOT representatives will be available in an informal setting to answer questions and receive comments relative to the proposed project. The opportunity to submit written comments or questions will also be provided and is encouraged. Please note: there will be no formal presentation.
Anyone desiring additional information may contact Derrick Lewis, P.E. Feasibility Studies Unit, by telephone (919) 715-5572 or email: email@example.com, or NCDOT Consultant, Mark Reep, with Florence & Hutcheson, Inc., at (919) 851-6066 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCDOT will provide auxiliary aids and services under the Americans with Disabilities Act for disabled persons who wish to participate in this workshop. Anyone requiring special services should contact Mr. Lewis as early as possible so that arrangements can be made.
NCDOT representatives will be available in an informal setting to answer questions and receive comments relative to the improvements of NC 107 from Bus 23 to WCU. The opportunity to submit written comments or questions will also be provided and is encouraged. Please note: there will be no formal presentation.
Please contact me if you have any questions, or if you would like for me to forward your comments on the project to the appropriate parties.
125 Bonnie Lane
Sylva, NC 28779
(828) 586-1962 ext 214
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Smart Roads Alliance Position Statement on the Jackson County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, 12/14/09
The Smart Roads Alliance has serious concerns over the inclusion of a bypass, called the 107 Connector, in the Jackson County Transportation Task Force's Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP). (A bypass is a road or highway that avoids a built-up area and allows traffic flow without interference from local traffic.) As members of the Task Force and the decision making process which created the CTP, the Smart Roads Alliance is not confident that the Task Force took the time to discuss or evaluate the potential environmental, economic, community and/or cultural impacts a bypass would have on our community. It is this inadequate evaluation of consequences that causes the Alliance to believe that it is not in our community's best interest to support a bypass.
A new bypass has enormous potential to drastically change our community's traffic patterns, economy and landscape. A bypass would divert 10,000-12,000 vehicles/day from our commercial districts, use 135 million dollars in taxpayer funds, dislocate approximately 50 residences and consume a ¼ mile swath of private property, 5 miles long, in Jackson County . Conversely, all the other transportation projects in the CTP will fix and/or expand existing roads, thus maintaining current traffic patterns and preserving the landscape. The Smart Roads Alliance agrees with the inclusion of all these other projects in the CTP.
Moreover, DOT's own modeling shows that the 107 Connector will not solve the congestion on Hwy 107 or at the intersection of Asheville Hwy. Yet it is often this congestion which is cited as the reason for building the 107 Connector. However, as DOT's Pam Cook often stated, traffic on Hwy 107 is driven by land use. Land use means just that, how the land is used. In our situation, the land along Hwy 107 is filled with many popular destinations and it's the driving to and from these locations that causes congestion.
To address this congestion, the CTP includes many solutions aimed directly at improving Hwy 107, East Main Street and the intersection of Asheville Hwy. Only when these solutions are implemented and traffic begins to flow more efficiently can we better evaluate the need for a $135 million bypass. Let's be sure that wrong reasoning is not being used to justify a decision as enormous as building a bypass.
One of the wrong reasons for building a bypass is the assumption that it will be needed to accommodate WCU's projected growth. Given the history of enrollment at WCU there is considerable uncertainty about how this will actually unfold. And, at any rate, distance learning will be a major element of their growth. (Distance learning students are students enrolled in online and off campus courses and do not come to Cullowhee.)
Smart Roads would encourage our community and its leadership to capitalize on the increased enrollment of on-campus students by demanding infrastructure improvements that encourage the WCU community to become active and supporting members of our economy. A 107 Connector could possibly discourage the WCU community, (or anyone else traveling from the southern portion of our county) from participating in our local economy. When modeled, a Connector accommodated the greatest number of vehicles/day if built south of Hwy116. At this location, anyone traveling to or from our southern communities could enter and/or exit our area without driving through most of our main commercial districts. There has been no evaluation performed by the Task Force or any other government body for that matter, of the potential economic impacts when 10,000+ vehicles/day are diverted from our commercial corridors.
Another potential impact of the bypass not evaluated by the Task Force is the interchange it would require at the intersection of Hwy 107. In a private conversation with NCDOT's Pam Cook, she stated that, 'there will be a separate grade interchange that includes clover leafs and/or ramps'. This sounds like an overpass.
DOT is reluctant to discuss the final design of this interchange because the project is still in the 'feasibility stage' and not the 'design stage'. However, the Smart Roads Alliance believes that somewhere DOT has built an interchange designed to accommodate 10,000+ vehicles/day and, with very little effort, we could have the important information needed to understand the necessary footprint and/or height requirement of the overpass. The design of an interchange is a vital consequence of the 107 Connector and its impact should be evaluated and understood before including it in the CTP.
Lastly, the Task Force was not allowed to explore transit and rail options as solutions for traffic problems in our community. This is because DOT's traffic model cannot model for transit and rail options in rural areas like ours. This seems a bit out of touch with today's concerns, to say nothing of concerns of 2035, the year for the model.
These are just a few of the reasons why the Smart Roads Alliance believes that the 107 Connector should be omitted from the CTP. Other reasons include the dislocation of residents and communities, the destruction of farmland and open spaces, environmental degradation, negative impacts on air quality and human health, and a continued reliance on foreign oil especially as dwindling supplies and increased foreign competition causes prices to become increasingly straining on household budgets.
A decision will be made soon, with NCDOT relying heavily on the vote of the incorporated towns and the county commissioners. Please contact all town and county leaders and let them know how you feel about the proposed 107 Connector.
To learn more you can visit www.regiona.org and click on Economic Development, then Transportation Planning to view the Jackson CTP in its entirety. Or please visit www.ncdot.gov and select Jackson County . The 107 Connector is project number is R-4745. Select more info and then click on the image for a detailed draft map of the 107 Connector.
This is an important issue and one that needs reporting. In the article written by Justin Goble about the hearing, I am quoted as saying: ""I agree with all the folks that have spoken in favor of removing the connector from the CTP," he said. "I like to call it the 'John Bardo Expressway.' Our leaders need to consider the extent this will impact the welfare of our citizens."" While I did say the first part of this quote, including naming the proposed road as the "John Bardo Expressway" (which I am now updating to be the John Bardo/Bear Lake Reserve Expressway to reflect what I believe to be the economic impetus for this road proposal), the final statement attributed to me is not an accurate account of what I said, nor is it even a condensation of my statement summing up the "gist" of my message. In order to rectify this mistake, and to further the dialog on the road project, I am responding in the hopes that my letter will clarify things. What I addressed to the Commissioners at the hearing concerned the necessity of building this road based on the idea of continued vehicular traffic growth, without looking at and thinking about the impacts of Global Climate Change and Peak Oil. There is an assumption that we can project growth based upon how things have grown in the past, and based upon how we have grown in the past we can assume that we will grow exponentially more in the future. I believe that without accounting for the effects of Global Climate Change and Peak Oil, we cannot accurately predict future growth, especially of fossil fuel dependant and intensive vehicular transportation. When looking at Peak Oil effects, we need to understand that oil extraction will not just shut off like a faucet when we run out, but rather the amounts of available oil will decrease, and its extraction will get more difficult. These, and other contributing factors, including market speculation, will cause the price of oil to go up, and its availability to go down. As oil, and therefore gasoline, gets more expensive, will we truly see an increase in vehicular traffic on our highways? When the price of oil jumped to $170/barrel and the price of gasoline rose to $4.50/gallon we saw a decrease in traffic counts, as well as an increase in public transportation usage and car-pooling. The NCDOT has stated to me that they can not include ideas of Peak Oil in their considerations, and therefore can only base their projections on incomplete data. I asked that the Jackson County Commisioners, who can include other factors besides traffic counts, reject the Hwy 107 connector and look for other options for relieving congestion. Thank you,
I'd like to bring some things to your attention that were not addressed in the report from the Jackson County Transportation Task Force. Comprehensive public transportation options were not considered. And, overall health and environmental impact of the various options were not compared.
It has been expressed that the county should leave environmental impact issues to such agencies as the Army Corp of Engineers, the federal EPA and appropriate state agencies. But, please be reminded that the levies in New Orleans prior to Katrina were designed and built by the Army Corp of Engineers, the toxic waste ash dam on the Emory River near Kingston, Tennessee was approved by the Army Corp of Engineers and the EPA and more than 500 mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky and East Tennessee have been dynamited, lowered up to 1000 feet in the shameful practice of mountain top removal coal mining, all with the approval of the Army Corp of Engineers and the EPA. I urge this commission not to avoid the responsibility of considering health and environmental impact yourselves before approving the CTP.
This past summer, a temporary staff member of the Canary Coalition, Brian McCauley, a graduate student at
I also have a second study conducted by the Canary Coalition two summers ago that I'm going to submit and ask you to review. It's entitled "Air Pollution Costs Jobs." This study addresses the effects of air pollution on agricultural industries, the forestry industry, the tourist industry and on the productivity of virtually all workers in all businesses and industry in areas, such as ours, in which poor air quality is a serious issue. For instance, you may be aware of the fact that one in three children between the ages of 1 and 14 in western
Literally paving the way for 10,000 more car trips each day through
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
By Becky Johnson • Staff writer
Smoky Mountain News
October 14, 2009
A proposed redesign of Russ Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare in Waynesville, received strong public support among those who attended a public workshop last week to learn more about the plan.
“I think this has to be done,” said Lyle Coffey, one of several residents who came out to study the large maps on display. “Russ Avenue has to be redone in some way.”
Verona Martin said the free-for-all that defines Russ Avenue makes driving it unpleasant.
“I’m not happy with it all, especially in the morning when it is so congested,” Martin said. “It puts me off.”
The redesign aims to improve traffic flow, but will also impart an aesthetic appeal sorely lacking today, said Ron Reid, the owner of Andon Reid Inn Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville.
“It is important for us because so many of our guests come in this way,” Reid said of the corridor. “It is the gateway to Waynesville.”
The key component of the plan is replacing the middle turn lane with a landscaped median the length of Russ Avenue. Drivers could no longer dart across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic in pursuit of their favorite fast-food joint on the opposite side of the road.
Instead, left turns will be corralled at intersections, improving both safety and traffic flow. A network of new side streets would skirt behind the businesses, taking pressure off the main drag.
Intersections that are off-kilter will be aligned and extra turn lanes added. The most dramatic example is at the entrance to Ingles, where a side street looping behind CVS and McDonald’s is off-center and as a result under-utilized. A building stands in the way of the intersection to be aligned, but the plan calls for knocking it down to shift the intersection over.
“This is an awfully needed intersection alignment,” Coffey said of the spot.
The only people raising issues with the plan were property owners in the direct path of a wider road footprint. While they supported the premise of the redesign, they lobbied for alterations that wouldn’t encroach as much on their property.
“I’m taking a hit right there,” said John Burgin, pointing at the spot on the map occupied by Arby’s.
Burgin built the store 15 years ago and has leased it to Arby’s ever since. But the redesign would claim precious parking lot real estate and wipe out his drive-through exit.
“You have to have a drive-through,” Burgin said of the fast-food business. “The numbers that go through a drive-through are staggering.”
Bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of Russ Avenue would increase the road’s footprint, but would mostly fall within existing right of way. Extra turn lanes at major intersections are a different story, however, and would require taking of property. Such is the case in front of Arby’s, where an extra right-turn lane funneling vehicles into the Ingles entrance would claim part of Burgin’s already-cramped parking lot.
Mike Melner, owner of Joe’s Welding, stands to lose his entire shop if the intersection makeover at Dellwood Road goes through. But Melner said he liked the overall plan.
“There’s good and bad,” Melner said. The bad mostly being the loss of property, and the rest being good.
Melner, a horseback rider, said he would rather see horse lanes than bike lanes down Russ Avenue, thinking they would be important in the future.
“You have to keep your mind open,” Melner said.
Long, long, long way off
The town got a $40,000 state transportation planning grant to hire a firm of its choice to create a new plan for the road.
The total cost of the makeover is $21.7 million, according to estimates prepared by the firm, Wilbur Smith Associates. The road designers broke down the costs into the two major components: $15.5 million for the makeover of Russ Avenue itself and $6.1 million for the network of new side streets.
It could easily be 20 years before the plan comes to fruition, according to Town Planner Paul Benson. That’s how long it typically takes to advance a project to the top of the state road construction list. As for the Russ Avenue project, it isn’t even on the list yet, and once it does get there, there’s no telling where the DOT will place it in the pecking order.
“It’s a pretty long time in the future,” Benson said. “It is always subject to money availability and political wind.”
Friday, May 22, 2009
Source: WRGC Radio 680 AM
Highways 107 and 64 will likely be connected by way of the Frank Allen Boulevard Extension in Cashiers. County Manager Ken Westmoreland informed the public and the Jackson County Commissioners this week that North Carolina Commissioner of Transportation Conrad Burrell has approved funding for the construction of the highway 107/64 connector in Cashiers. While the DOT would provide the funds to build the road, the county must own a small section of land that would provide for an easement, or right of way. County Manager Ken Westmoreland explained "That property has now been sold. It was auctioned off about a month ago. Consolidated Metco has offered to sell us the easement at the per-acre value of the property in general, which comes to $25,000.
Funds to purchase the land for the easement from Consolidated Metco would come from the Cashiers Rec. Center Site Work fund, which has in it about $57,000. So, less than half of that money would be used to acquire the land for the easement.
Mr. Westmoreland explained that the $25,000 purchase needed to be ok'd for the project to move forward with the DOT. He said "North Carolina Department of Transportation has secured for us funds to be provided for that road connector. So this is essential to provide for that connector. The consideration tonight is the use of a portion of the balance of the Cashiers Rec. Center site work [funds] in the amount of $25,000.
County Commissioners agreed to that consideration and approved the purchase on a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Smoky Mountain News
May 6, 2009
By Becky Johnson • Staff writer
A fix for impending traffic congestion on N.C. 107 in Sylva doesn’t lie solely with a new bypass but will require a redesign of the commercial artery itself, according to the latest traffic projections by the Department of Transportation.
Two sides have emerged in the long-standing debate over whether to build a new highway around Sylva. One camp wants to build a bypass allowing commuters to skirt the commercial mire of N.C. 107. The other wants to redesign N.C. 107 so traffic flows better.
The answer could be both, according to recent DOT traffic projections. The Jackson County Transportation Task Force held a public meeting last week to gather input on both ideas, although participation was very low.
A new bypass would not divert enough cars from the commercial hotbed on N.C. 107 to solve future traffic woes, according to the traffic projections. Back-ups on the stretch largely stem from people coming and going from places along the congested stretch itself, according to Pam Cook, a DOT transportation planner working on a master transportation plan for Jackson County.
Opponents of a new bypass, known as the Southern Loop, have long insisted that it wouldn’t solve congestion. Joel Setzer, head of the DOT for the 10 western counties, said he, too, always knew that a bypass wouldn’t solve all the problems. It’s one reason Setzer called for a separate congestion management study now underway by DOT experts in Raleigh.
Whether the result will be a full-fledged redesign of N.C. 107 or simply tinkering with the timing of stoplights won’t be known for at least a year, likely much longer. The congestion management study is still in its early stages — so early in fact there are no numbers on how much a redesign will help.
Theoretically, a host of congestion management techniques could be implemented, each one ratcheting up the traffic flow and reducing back-ups. Although the DOT engineers haven’t run the specific traffic models to see how much each technique would help, they’ve looked at it enough to say that whatever it is, it won’t be enough.
“Will it be enough to handle all the traffic to make it function well?” asked Cook. “Probably not. That is something we have to determine.”
Why not wait before making a decision in that case, asked Susan Leveille, a member of the Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance.
“I am still a bit confused why we can’t look at congestion management on 107 before we spend hundreds of millions developing a bypass,” said Leveille. “You need to look at the small things you can do. You don’t bulldoze down your house because you need another bathroom.”
The Jackson County Transportation Task Force will be asked to endorse a countywide transportation master plan in the coming months. It not only will address N.C. 107, but span the entire county — from congestion in Cashiers to Main Street in Sylva to the campus of WCU.
The task force is being pushed to put its stamp of approval on a long-range plan — which at the moment calls for the construction of the bypass — before the traffic models for 107 fixes are finished.
Jeanette Evans, a member of Smart Roads and opponent of the by-pass, questioned the wisdom of endorsing a bypass until the task force has a better handle on how much fixes along N.C. 107 will help.
“I would like to be able to play with 107 in some respects to see how it works if we do this or that,” Evans said at a public meeting last week.
Ryan Sherby, a transportation coordinator who serves as a liaison between mountain communities and the DOT, questioned whether that was the task force’s job.
“The task force is a vision body, not an engineer body,” Sherby said.
“If you don’t know what the options are or the consequences of this or that action, how can you vision?” countered Leveille. “It seems to me like we are being asked to make a decision without all the information.”
Cook reiterated that congestion management, while needed, would fall short.
“My opinion at this point is that I don’t think there will be enough with congestion management,” Cook said.
Leveille and Evans said they did not understand why they are being rushed into approving a plan by July. The task force spent 18 months corralling and sifting through population and growth data. It only began the nitty-gritty work of analyzing the different road options two months ago. July is too soon to sign off on a master plan, they said, especially since it addresses everything from widening Main Street on the outskirts of Sylva to widening U.S. 64 in the middle of Cashiers.
“I don’t see how we can come up with a comprehensive plan in a matter of three or four months,” Leveille said.
Initially, the July deadline would allow the DOT to incorporate the task force recommendations into its annual planning process, Sherby said. It could be pushed back a couple months, however, Sherby said.
All the options are predicated on traffic models for 2035, when congestion on some roads will surpass what the DOT considers acceptable. But that model has been called into question.
“Are we planning for 2035 as we have lived in the past?” questioned Myrtle Schrader, who attended the meeting last week. “I don’t hear anything about the future of transportation. We need to look at what our lifestyle can and should be here in the mountains.”
Dr. Cecil Groves, president of Southwestern Community College, said that it is fair and accurate to assume there will be more cars on the road by 2035.
“What we know is if we don’t do anything it only gets significantly worse and more difficult to correct. The population here is going to grow. So we have to make an educated guess the best we can,” Groves said.
Groves advocated for more thought-out land-use planning that would influence commercial growth, rather than figure out how to accommodate it once it has cropped up.
Another question involved the DOT’s definition of congestion. Is the congestion a brief spike during commuter hours, or is it sustained and chronic? Setzer said the congestion was more than a momentary spike, but wasn’t all-day congestion either.
News that the DOT is considering a redesign of N.C. 107 coupled with a bypass — rather than either-or — could signal the beginning of a compromise.
The bypass, formerly known as the Southern Loop, was initially billed as a major freeway through southern Jackson County, looping from U.S. 23-74 north of Sylva to U.S. 441 south of Dillsboro. Somewhere in between it would cross N.C. 107 with a major interchange.
In response to public opposition, the DOT dropped half of the Southern Loop — the part extending to U.S. 441 south of Dillsboro.
The DOT is still seriously contemplating the other half, but the language describing the road has been toned down. Instead of the once-touted four-lane freeway, the DOT shifted gears in the past year to consider a two-lane road instead.
That two-lane road would claim enough right of way to accommodate four lanes one day, said Joel Setzer, head of the DOT for the 10 western counties. It would still be designed for a speed of 55 miles per hour. It would still operate like a freeway in the sense of limited access from driveways or intersecting roads. And where it joined N.C. 107, it would likely have an interchange rather than an intersection with a stoplight, Setzer said. But the two-lane concept is scaled down nonetheless.
Spot land-use plan to mark first forray into zoning
The Smoky Mountain News
May 6, 2009
By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer
Jackson County leaders have finished the first draft of a planning ordinance they hope will transform the U.S. 441 corridor in Whittier from a mish mash of billboards and unregulated growth into a model of tidy landscaping and mountain-themed architecture.
The U.S. 441 Development Ordinance made its public debut at an April 30 presentation at the Qualla Community Center. It now must go to the planning board for a review, then before county commissioners who will the decide whether to pass it into law. If it passes, Jackson will be the first county west of Buncombe to make a foray into land-use planning or zoning in a mostly rural unincorporated area.
The document, created by a county-appointed steering committee, is the culmination of a year-long process. At nearly 100 pages, it calls for mandatory landscaping and architectural standards, limits the size of signs and requires dumpsters to be screened.
Commercial development along the corridor is sparse now. But water and sewer are being installed along the highway, priming the pump for more intensive development to follow. The ordinance sets out a vision to guide anticipated growth from the outset along the stretch, which serves as an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee.
“I know what is pretty and what is ugly is a matter of perspective, but on the other hand, there is signage and a type of building construction that I don’t believe is good for the community or the southern entrance of the (Park),” said Bill Gibson, a steering committee member, at the first public presentation of the ordinance.
Jackson County Planning Director Linda Cable said the appearance of the corridor is critical, since it’s a major gateway to the nation’s most-visited national park.
“This being a tremendous tourist attraction, it’s important that the corridor remains pleasing to visitors,” Cable said.
Gibson expressed high hopes that the ordinance, “will make the corridor both a safer travel route and a landscape over time that will become more pleasing not only to folks that live here, but travel here.”
The process of creating a planning document for the corridor began when citizens approached commissioners with concern over growth poised to follow the extension of water and sewer lines. Commissioners took heed and hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates in November 2007 to oversee the process. What followed was a series of stakeholder interviews, workshops, and a four-day series of interactive meetings with a team of planners, engineers and architects where public input was sought to create a vision for the area.
The public had plenty to say.
“There was overwhelming participation in this event,” said Matt Noonkester, a Kimley-Horn consultant for the project. “I think that’s what made the vision so important and so valid.”
Billboards were a big issue for people during the planning process, Nooncaster said. Participants were asked to guess how many billboards lined the corridor. Estimates ranged into the 300s — far below the actual number of 68, but a testament to the perception of clutter they created.
Community members wanted design guidelines to address building appearance and advocated for the creation of a development district to guide future growth. They overwhelmingly supported the development of a community brand, which would include a color palette, appropriate building materials and signs of a certain shape and size.
“There was strong support to look at regulating building architecture,” Noonkester said.
They liked the idea of a pedestrian-friendly, four-lane road with a landscaped center median.
Public input was compiled into the Small Area Plan, adopted by county commissioners in April of 2008. The document would serve as the foundation for a more comprehensive ordinance.
The bottom-up approach to planning was lauded by many who watched the process unfold. The Small Area Plan actually received an award from the American Planning Association.
“It was a really good model, not only for the ordinance that came out of it, but also the process,” said Ben Brown, communications coordinator for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, the region’s largest-ever planning effort. “They chose to use a charette to talk directly to the community and help shape the principals and goals of the ordinance, which makes a lot more sense. That was the first really good example in the region of how to go about planning.”
Public opinion was kept at the forefront as the steering committee worked to draft the development ordinance.
Committee members, many longtime residents of the area themselves, had to strike a delicate balance between economic development and retaining Whittier’s beauty and character.
Debby Cowan, a steering committee member, spoke of the her experience trying to reconcile the two. Cowan said she wanted to preserve the area’s natural beauty, “but also recognized that Food Lion was one of the greatest things that happened in our community.”
Gibson also talked of trying to strike a balance.
“I have a great respect for individual property rights,” he said, but at the same time, “some of the changes we’re seeing right now are not in the community’s best interest.”
Though a strong private property rights sentiment might make some mountain folk wary of growth rules and regulations, it’s also important to develop in a wise manner, said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Larry Blythe. The tribe was heavily involved in the process.
“It’s hard to put restrictions on people’s land, but when you’re talking about smart growth and the long term, we the tribe support this effort,” Blythe said.
During the process, committee members worked to shed their personal beliefs for the sake of what was best for the community as a whole.
“We feel like this is something that was prepared from the viewpoint of all the different people and all the different backgrounds of people in the community,” said Cowan. “While we don’t have it perfect probably, we do think the framework is something we worked very hard to make support everybody in the community.”
The committee’s efforts to include all viewpoints didn’t go unnoticed, said Michael Egan, the county’s consulting attorney on land development matters.
“I was very impressed with the dedication the committee had, always trying to think of the rest of the folks. There’s wasn’t a meeting that went by that somebody would say, let’s step back and take a look at that; let’s consider what affect that’s going to have on our neighbors and the folks who live here,” Egan said.
Tourist draw or clutter?
The draft development ordinance for U.S. 441 encourages development that helps maintain the area’s natural beauty and character — a style dubbed “mountain authentic.” According to the ordinance, the ubiquitous large, colorful billboards that line the corridor aren’t in keeping with the area’s character, and are prohibited. The ones already in existence will be grandfathered in, however. Under the ordinance, signs are limited to 32 square feet. Preferred sign materials include brick, stone, and exposed timber.
Miami Lively, a representative of Santa’s Land Advertising, which owns a number of billboards, raised protest to the strict requirements at the public presentation of the document.
“You cannot put most people’s logos and directions on a (32-square-foot) sign,” Lively said. “The bigger the sign, the easier to read. We agree we don’t need a whole bunch of clutter, but the business owners are paying taxes for their businesses. If they don’t make money, the tax money isn’t going to come in.”
Lively added that “billboards bring tourism to the area.”
Ron Servoss, a community resident, disagreed that billboards enhance an area.
“I drove the corridor into Washington, D.C., last week, where there are no billboards allowed, and it was just wonderful to see the countryside,” Servoss said.
Noonkester pointed to the commercial corridor outside Sylva off N.C. 107, where billboards have been allowed to spring up without regulation. The road, and the unchecked growth along it, is often used as an example of what to avoid becoming.
“How many people like driving N.C. 107?” Noonkester asked, citing its sprawling strip mall and fast-food appearance. “The people of Cherokee would benefit more if this place keeps an identity they can associate with.”
The steering committee hopes it has nailed down that identity in the development ordinance.
“As we grow, I hope that future generations can look back on this group and say, they did a really good thing for this community,” said County Commissioner William Shelton.
What’s in store?
Here’s a sample of the aesthetic standards called for in the U.S. 441 Development Ordinance. For the complete ordinance, go to www.smokymountainnews.com.
• Accepted building materials include stone, exposed timber, fiber cement siding, wood siding, and shingle siding. No aluminum buildings.
• Dark and earth-tone building colors are strongly encouraged. Intense, bright, black or fluorescent colors shall only be used as accents.
• Dumpsters must be screened and blend with the building.
• Trees must be planted around parking lots and shrubs must be planted around building foundations. Landscape plans must be prepared by a landscape architect or designer. Trees must be planted in parking lots that are more than 8,000 square feet.
• Billboards are prohibited. Other signs cannot exceed 32 square feet.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Smoky Mountain News
March 11, 2009
By Becky Johnson • Staff writer
A Jackson County task force has entered the nitty-gritty stage in its quest to fix traffic congestion on N.C. 107 in Sylva.
The group has begun compiling a long list of possible solutions to the congestion. Once complete, it will turn the list over to the Department of Transportation to assess whether and how much each idea could help.
The solutions fall into one of two categories. One is to alter the design of N.C. 107 to handle more traffic. The other is to divert cars off N.C. 107.
Jackson County is split into two basic camps of how to solve traffic congestion on N.C. 107. One advocates building the Southern Loop, a cross-county highway that would bypass the main drag of N.C. 107 and tie in with U.S. 23-74 north of Sylva. Initially conceived as a large-scale freeway, road planners now say it could be a boulevard or even simple two-lane road.
The second camp wants to redesign the existing N.C. 107 and use smaller side roads to handle some of 107’s traffic.
Just how much congestion the task force is tasked with solving has been the subject of debate over the last several months (see related article.) The latest prediction claims there will be around 1,000 to 2,000 cars too many using N.C. 107 during the peak commuter hours by the year 2035.
The projection was formulated using DOT models and growth formulas, and massaged with help of the task force.
Some members of the task force remain concerned over the growth assumptions plugged into the model. The pace of growth witnessed over the past 25 years may not hold true for the next 25.
“Then this overage you are trying to address may not be accurate,” said task force member Susan Leveille.
Those in favor of the Southern Loop want to make the future congestion look worse to justify the road, Leveille said. Likewise, those who don’t want to build the Southern Loop want to downplay future congestion.
The name of the game is figuring out how to deal with 1,000 to 2,000 more cars than the road can handle. That’s where the brainstorming process and solutions pitched by the task force come in.
Those opposed to the Southern Loop hope to shows the overage can be handled without building a new highway. Those in favor of the Southern Loop claim the only way of dealing with that many cars would be building the new bypass.
The Southern Loop isn’t the only way to divert cars off 107, however. There are other ways to lighten the load. One is a system of smaller network roads: a system of shortcuts, more or less.
Another option for lightening the load doesn’t involve the roads at all. For example, if more students and faculty lived in Cullowhee, they wouldn’t be driving up and down N.C. 107 to get to campus. The county could enact land-use strategies to encourage more residential development around Western, according to Pam Cook, a DOT transportation planner working with the task force.
“That would be something that only elected officials can change, but that can certainly be evaluated,” she said.
Another option to get cars off the road is a commuter bus between Sylva and Western Carolina University in hopes of decreasing cars on the road.
When it comes to altering the design of N.C. 107 to handle the traffic overage, solutions being pitched include rerouting intersections, adding lanes and congestion management strategies.
Some solutions, when packaged together, can actually result in exponential improvements. For example, an intersection redesign could increase carrying capacity by 2,000 cars and an extra lane by another 2,000, but when done together could carry an extra 5,000.
“We’ll try to strategically group those,” said Ryan Sherby, community transportation coordinator for 10 western counties.
A whole category of solutions falls under the umbrella of congestion management. Congestion management can streamline traffic and increase what the DOT calls the “carrying capacity” of the road. But the congestion strategies might not be included in the numbers game aimed at coping with the projected overage, Cook said.
But the techniques are being considered. A team that specializes in congestion management visited Jackson County and performed a cursory analysis of N.C. 107 last year at the behest of the local DOT. The report from their visit is not yet out, but could be promising, Cook said.
“They may not solve all the deficiencies but would certainly make things operate more smoothly,” Cook said.
Cook said the team would like to make a second visit to examine a few options more closely.
The public can join in the brainstorming as well. Anyone with a solution they think the task force should put on the list to run by DOT can contact Sherby at email@example.com or 828.586.1962, ext. 214.
Stop-and-start process now rolling
Jackson County task force members are excited with the new stage of their work. The task force was formed six years, but faltered for much of its existence due to a revolving door of DOT staffers, including long windows with no staff person assigned to the task force at all.
“I feel like we are just getting started with what I thought would be happening five years ago,” said Susan Leveille, a task force member and representative of the Smart Roads coalition. “We have been sitting listening for such a long time, and for a long time we had a void of nothing. I am very glad that we finally have an opportunity for input that seems to be genuinely part of the process.”
The current DOT staffer assigned to the task force marks the fourth since its creation, and each one essentially started again from scratch upon taking over. But the latest at the helm, Pam Cook, appears to be in for the long haul and the task force is finally showing concrete progress.
Cook said every solution pitched in the brainstorming stage will get evaluated.
“Every thought needs to be considered. Some can just be considered by discussion, some thoughts will be evaluated through a model, others we’ll have to go out into the field and see if it is feasibly possible to connect this road and that,” said Cook, who specializes in community transportation planning. “There is not a bad idea.”
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The Sylva Herald
February 5, 2009
By Justin Goble
Members of the Jackson County Transportation Task Force began looking at road deficiencies in the county during their meeting last Thursday (Jan. 29).
N.C. Department of Transportation Planner Pam Cook told members of the task force that DOT is looking at where and when traffic reached capacity in Jackson County in 2008 and trying to predict where those problems will be in 2035.
In its model, Cook said the DOT is looking at the county’s roads at three given time periods on an average day – 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
According to the DOT’s observations, Cook said the biggest problem with congestion in the county is along N.C. 107 from N.C. 116 to Asheville Highway in the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. periods. At those times, Cook said the road is nearing its capacity for traffic, which is creating congestion for county motorists to deal with.
Midday traffic is also heavy, said DOT Engineer Jamie Wilson, adding that there is probably as much, if not more, traffic along the roads during the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. period as during the others being studied. However, traffic is steadier in the middle of the day, whereas the morning and evening hours usually see a spike in traffic as people go to and leave work.
“During the morning and evening times, you may have a one-hour overload on the system,” Wilson said. “The midday period is more consistent. You may not have a big overload, but it’s a good amount of traffic along N.C. 107 the whole time.”
Greenways representative Allan Grant agreed, saying that congestion can’t fully be blamed on the layout of the road during those periods.
“That has more to do with business hours,” he said. “Everyone’s going and coming from work and it’s creating that spike.”
Smart Roads Alliance member Susan Leveille said that’s what DOT needs to deal with in its planning.
“That’s what we keep hearing concerns about,” Leveille said. “That spike is what people are worried about. If we want to address the concerns of the people, we have to address that spike in traffic.”
Leveille asked if the plan proposed by former Sylva Planning Director Jim Aust had been considered by DOT as a means to alleviate congestion at those times.
That plan includes a 1-mile connector to join the relocated Hospital Road with Cope Creek Road, which would allow travelers from the Moody Bottom area to avoid the Business 23/107 intersection. Another connector could give Dillardtown residents access to the same new road. Constructing another mile or so of new road from Cope Creek to Haskett Road could provide travelers with an alternate route to Fairview Elementary and Smoky Mountain High schools. Also included is a connector from Claude Cook Road, off of East Cope Creek, to Songbird Lane in the area of Fairview Road.
Among other features of the plan are a new road to connect Griffin Road to Buchanan Loop – to provide a back entrance to Wal-Mart – and a connection from Cherry Street to Walter Ashe Road to allow Rhodes Cove travelers to enter the highway at a controlled intersection. Another road shown as a connector runs from Blanton Branch Road, one terminus for the proposed Southern Loop, to Cane Creek Road. That route already exists, though a portion of it is unpaved and difficult for many vehicles to travel.
The map also shows numerous other proposed connectors. Included are projected roads from Locust Creek to East Cope Creek, Claude Cook Road to the new Blanton Branch-Cane Creek connector, Cope Creek to Lovesfield near Wal-Mart, and North River Road to the back of Wal-Mart.
Cook said it could be included as a proposed option when DOT starts looking more in depth at the road deficiencies and begins formulating solutions for them.
In 2035, Cook said DOT is projecting for traffic to greatly increase along the county’s roads, given the predicted population increase and Western Carolina University’s expansion to at least 15,000 on-campus students.
Because of that, Cook said DOT is predicting that the problems county drivers face will increase if nothing is done to alleviate congestion, and traffic will go over capacity on N.C. 107 in the morning and evening hours. That congestion is spilling onto parts of other roads as well, with portions of West Main Street, Webster Road, Asheville Highway, Cope Creek Road, Little Savannah Road and Centennial Drive (on Western Carolina University’s campus) nearing capacity as well, she said.
Midday traffic, though not as heavy, is also expected to be at capacity on those roads, Cook said.
Commissioner William Shelton, who represents county officials on the transportation task force, asked if DOT has accounted for the expansion planned along U.S. 441 from Whittier to Cherokee. With a sewer system set to be completed in the area in the next year, he said there is a good amount of development expected to take place.
“With all of the developments there, are we sure that the roads will be adequate?” Shelton asked.
Wilson said he thought that it might be slightly congested as motorists get off the exit from U.S. 74 onto U.S. 441, but that would be the worst problem along that road.
WCU representative Pat Brown also asked if DOT had thought about adding a westbound entrance ramp off Asheville Highway onto U.S. 74. That would keep some traffic from going through downtown Sylva to get onto the four-lane, she said.
DOT District Engineer Joel Setzer said the idea is currently being considered, and officials are determining what the cost of such a project will be.
Task force members will meet again this month to discuss the benefits of bike and walking paths and how they might affect traffic in the county.
Monday, January 19, 2009
The Sylva Herald
January 15, 2009
By Justin Goble
Members of the Smart Roads Alliance are asking county commissioners for help in developing a community-based plan for N.C. 107.
Representatives Susan Leveille and Jeanette Evans went before county officials Monday night (Jan. 5) to discuss developing a plan similar to that being considered for the U.S. 441 corridor in Whittier.
That plan is allowing community members to give their input on guidelines that will help steer development in that area. Commissioners are hoping to have the plan complete sometime this year.
Evans said one of the reasons a plan like that would be better for N.C. 107 is that it would allow members of the community to lay out their vision for that area. Those ideas may be in stark contrast to the proposed N.C. 107/U.S. 23/74 connector that the N.C. Department of Transportation is planning, she said.
"Under the county's current land-use plan, the Department of Transportation can operate under their own assumptions of what the future of Jackson County will look like," Evans said. "We urge you to strengthen that document. You've also been doing some community-based development planning for the U.S. 441 corridor. We think it would be a good idea to expand that to the N.C. 107 corridor. The DOT's plan is vague. They are creating assumptions for the area that we think may be inaccurate."
Evans said if the DOT is allowed to move forward with its plans for a connector, several scenic areas and farmlands would be destroyed by road construction. If community members are given a say in the process, that could be prevented, she said.
Commissioners' Chairman Brian McMahan pointed out that the part of N.C. 107 that Evans was referring to was within Sylva's town limits, which means town officials have jurisdiction in the matter. However, he said the county would help with such an effort.
"It's something we're more than willing to look into," he said. "But this is something you will have to take up with the Sylva town board."
However, Commissioner Joe Cowan said the county's transportation task force has been working on plans to deal with traffic woes along N.C. 107 for almost a decade. They haven't produced an alternative to the DOT's plans, and the alternative proposed by former Sylva Planning Director Jim Aust (which was given public backing by Smart Roads) would be more harmful to the area, he said.
That plan includes a 1-mile connector to join the relocated Hospital Road with Cope Creek Road, which would then allow travelers from the Moody Bottom area to avoid the Business 23/107 intersection. Another connector could give Dillardtown residents access to the same new road. Constructing another mile or so of new road from Cope Creek to Haskett Road could provide travelers with an alternate route to Fairview Elementary and Smoky Mountain High schools. Also included is a connector from Claude Cook Road, off of East Cope Creek, to Songbird Lane in the area of Fairview Road.
Among other features of the plan are a new road to connect Griffin Road to Buchanan Loop – to provide a back entrance to Wal-Mart – and a connection from Cherry Street to Walter Ashe Road to allow Rhodes Cove travelers to enter the highway at a controlled intersection. Another road shown as a connector runs from Blanton Branch Road, one terminus for the 107-23/74 connector, to Cane Creek Road. That route already exists, though a portion of it is unpaved and difficult for vehicles to travel.
The map also shows numerous other proposed connectors. Included are projected roads from Locust Creek to East Cope Creek, Claude Cook Road to the new Blanton Branch-Cane Creek connector, Cope Creek to Lovesfield near Wal-Mart, and North River Road to the back of Wal-Mart.
"The plan that they put up, even a novice like me can conclude that it would cost more money, uproot more people and destroy more homes than DOT's plan," he said. "I've never seen a plan from the transportation task force (as an alternative). The DOT did away with the (western) part of the proposed connector, which cut through Webster. I was personally opposed to that. It would have been bad for the community, and people voiced that opinion. There we have an example of DOT listening to the community. The majority of traffic we're dealing with is going east out to Cullowhee. DOT has competent engineers. They wouldn't create a route that would destroy scenic areas if it's possible for them to avoid that. That's not their job. This whole process has been stagnant for six years. What do we expect DOT to do? Their job is to build roads. I think it's time we get behind them."
Commissioner William Shelton, who represents the county on the transportation task force, said he thought the community should be given time to voice their opinions on the matter. Though the task force has met irregularly in the past, he said the group is meeting more often and getting a lot accomplished.
"People are bringing up valid points about the issue," he said. "Why should we stop listening to the public's concerns on it now when the task force is finally moving forward?"
"Smart Roads is currently working with the Regional Planning Office," she said. "We're not trying to stop any process that's ongoing. We're just trying to come up with some alternatives. The DOT is great with quantitative things, but they're not so great at qualitative things. That comes from the community. It's not our job to create solutions. Our job is to create a vision as to what that area should look like, and the DOT should design the roads to fit in with that vision."
After suggesting Evans and Leveille take their suggestions to the Sylva town board, commissioners said they would continue discussing the issue at a later date.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The Smoky Mountain News
January 7, 2009
By Josh Mitchell • Staff Writer
A member of the Jackson County Smart Roads group told county commissioners on Monday (Jan. 5) that there needs to be more planning when it comes to the proposed N.C. 107 connector, a.k.a. Southern Loop.
The proposed road would connect N.C. 107 with U.S. 23/74 to relieve congestion on N.C. 107.
The Smart Roads representative, Jeanette Evans, said it is up to the county to develop a vision for future growth and development, particularly along the county’s primary commercial artery. She suggested that now is a good time for the county to launch a plan for N.C. 107 since the N.C. Department of Transportation is footing the bill to come up with solutions to congestion, whether it’s building a by-pass or improving the existing roadway.
It may be a good idea to develop an individual plan for N.C. 107 similar to what has been done on the 441 corridor, Evans said.
Evans, who is the Smart Roads representative on the Jackson County Transportation Task Force, said whatever is done to N.C. 107 will have a permanent affect on the county. The transportation task force is just in the “modeling stage” of determining how growth will affect N.C 107.
The fear is that the Southern Loop would destroy mountain landscapes.
County Commissioner Joe Cowan said N.C. 107 has been discussed for 10 years and has been “talked to death.” Cowan said Smart Roads has not developed one plan that addresses traffic concerns on N.C. 107. He said Smart Roads is “stagnant.”
But Susan Leveille, who is also a member of Smart Roads, said it is not her organization’s fault that progress has been slow. She laid the blame on DOT.
Cowan said DOT is not going to “decimate” a scenic area but said a bypass needs to be built to provide motorists with some relief.
Evans said Smart Roads is in place to advocate the community’s input on the road.
County Commissioner Tom Massie said there is already a county land use plan in place that addresses protecting scenic and cultural resources. Massie noted that the land use plan should be used in planning for N.C. 107 since the plan was developed with input form the public.
Massie suggested that the county planner and DOT planner communicate more about the county’s land use plan.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Sylva Herald
December 11, 2008
By Stephanie Salmons and Lynn Hotaling
First was a proposed four-lane highway called the Southern Loop that would stretch from Blanton Branch through Webster to Cagle Branch. Then the proposal was a two-lane road on a four-lane right of way that would leave U.S. 23/74 near Blanton Branch and connect with N.C. 107 between Sylva and Cullowhee, possibly as close to Western Carolina University as Cane Creek.
Last Thursday, however, local elected officials who attended an N.C. Department of Transportation workshop learned that there may not be a road at all.
"We've decided to continue looking at building a connector," said DOT Division Engineer Joel Setzer.
School Board Chairman Ken Henke, right, and his wife, Nikki, center, speak with a transportation official at a drop-in information forum hosted by the N.C. Department of Transportation last Thursday (Dec. 4) in which information was available about a potential connector road from U.S. 23/74 to N.C. 107. No definite decisions have been made about the proposed new road nor with regard to any other alternatives aimed at alleviating congestion on N.C. 107, which could include "no build" alternatives such as a combination of improvements to existing roadways. – Herald photo by Stephanie Salmons
The bulk of the session, which preceded a drop-in public information forum on the proposed road, revolved around the various studies involved before any decisions are made. Consultant Mark Reep of Ko & Associates in Raleigh, told the assembled local leaders that the "107 Connector" as the potential road is being called, is in the "project development phase."
What that means, according to information passed out at the session, is that environmental studies to evaluate the impact of a new road will be conducted and compared not only with alternate routes for new construction but also with alternatives that improve existing roads or create interconnectivity of secondary roads. In addition, DOT planners will also look at traffic-system management, which could involve optimizing existing traffic signals, widening intersections to add turn lanes, and combining and eliminating driveway accesses.
Another alternative could include a combination of these options – for example, improving an existing roadway combined with a new road.
While a feasibility study for a potential new road has been completed and a study area selected, Reep said the feasibility study for N.C. 107 between Sylva and the Western Carolina University campus is ongoing and is looking at viable options for relieving traffic congestion along the existing 107. That study will not evaluate new construction alternatives but will consider traffic congestion with and without the addition of a new connector.
Setzer told The Herald two weeks ago that the idea behind a new connector is that it would alleviate some of the traffic along N.C. 107 that's bound for Western Carolina University and Cullowhee.
While no route for a new road has been established, a study area that stretches south of Sylva to a point on N.C. 107 just past the WCU campus and east of Sylva to Blanton Branch on U.S. 23/74 has been established, he said.
A storm of protest followed DOT's summer 2003 release of plans for a four-lane connector that would leave U.S. 23/74 at Blanton Branch and run through Webster to link with U.S. 441 near Cagle Branch. Under that proposal, the new road would have crossed N.C. 107 either at Locust Creek or Cope Creek.
A grassroots group, the Smart Roads Alliance, held meetings and took out newspaper ads opposing a new four-lane highway and a county transportation task force was formed.
The planned road then dropped from sight until 2007, when the DOT's Transportation Improvement Plan included funding for right of way acquisition for the eastern portion – the U.S. 23/74 to N.C. 107 leg of the planned new road, which Setzer at the time said he envisioned as a two-lane, access-controlled road on a four-lane right of way.
Plans for a new 107-to-441 connector have now been dropped, Setzer said.
According to Reep, much information remains to be gathered before any decisions are made. The timeline he outlined for the proposed connector indicates that even if the decision is made to build a new road, construction would not begin until at least 2015. That project schedule is as follows:
– Purpose and need, early 2009
– Citizens informational workshop, fall 2009
– Identify alternatives – late 2009
– Citizens informational workshop, early 2010
– Draft environmental impact statement, spring 2012
– Public hearing, summer 2012
– Select preferred alternative, fall 2012
– Final environmental impact statement, summer 2013
– Right of way acquisition, 2015
– Construction, after 2015
We are not against growth and development,
nor a reasonable expansion of existing roads."
- Lydia Aydlett, Smart Roads Alliance
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead