By Nathan Ham
Several concerned citizens in Blowing Rock have been vocal about the amount of speeding and noise on Highway 321 going through Blowing Rock. Now, a total of 286 people have signed a petition that will be delivered to the Blowing Rock Town Council for them to “use every tool at its disposal, and take substantial, active measures to alleviate the noise, and speeding (contributory to the noise) along Rt. 321.”
Lorry Mulhern, the general manager at the Green Park Inn, said the current plan is to present the petition to the council at their October 12 meeting.
“I and others have approached the town over a period of years. I addressed the issue of speeding and ‘Jake Brakes’ by 18 wheelers when JB Lawrence was still mayor. I stood up and asked why the police couldn’t pull them over and ticket them. JB’s answer was you can’t pull over 18 wheelers; there’s nowhere to pull them over,” Mulhern said. “I have also spoken to individuals in town government about the potential for painting large ‘35 miles per hour’ on the roadway, and that was never addressed. There have been many citizens that have written letters, but no action has been reported from people who have met with town government. This is a huge issue and an ongoing issue.”
Mulhern added that the noise is affecting just how much property owners can peacefully enjoy their property and the level of enjoyment for people staying at the Green Park Inn.
“As a business person and as a resident, it is very disturbing. This noise is so bad at times it can be heard two and three blocks away from 321,” she said. “Speed is contributory to the road noise, but the trucks with the Jake Brakes are bone-rattling. We have guests all the time asking to move out of their rooms because they happen to be on the roadside. You can feel it vibrate.”
Laura and Warren Bingham have been residents of Blowing Rock for 22 years and live just off of Highway 321. Laura said that the speeding and noise have gotten worse particularly over the last three to four years.
“We all remember the two-lane, and we all remember the extended construction period. I think there was this expectation and anticipation that this boulevard would be a very pleasant entry point coming into Blowing Rock. The design didn’t really set us up for pleasantness,” she said.
“You’re so happy just to get the road construction done. Then you figure out everyone is going 100 miles an hour, and it’s really noisy. After all the dust clears, you realize that you have a real issue here with speed, noise and safety concerns,” Warren said.
Laura said they have been trying to get the town’s attention on the issue for the last few years, including sending a letter to the town council in August of 2020.
“It’s an issue hiding in plain sight. It doesn’t seem to be at the top of the mind to the people that could most do something about it,” Laura said. “Through the years, I have noticed that when the council publishes their big topics that they’re going to roll up their sleeves on the next year, this issue is just not there. There are other priorities that are there, but the issue of quality of life and how it is being substantially impacted by the speed and the noise just never rises to that level.”
Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox said that Blowing Rock Chief of Police Aaron Miller will be speaking at the town council meeting on Tuesday. “He will give a full update on traffic enforcement in the entire town and things that we have been doing.”
Fox acknowledged that the issue has been on the town’s radar for a while.
“We have done various things in the past, we have asked for and received assistance in the past from the North Carolina Highway Patrol to assist us in traffic enforcement,” Fox said. “We have also been awarded a grant for permanent radar signs on 321 and we have picked the location for those. They will be mounted coming into town from Caldwell and the other as you come into town from Boone. They will be permanent digital radar signs that will be posted and mounted on black poles similar to our lights that are out there now. We will get those in hopefully over the winter would be my guess.”
According to data collected by the town, Fox estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 cars travel Highway 321 through Blowing Rock each day. With that much traffic, there really isn’t much that can be done in terms of noise complaints.
“The tricky thing is coming up by the Green Park is you have new walls that have been constructed that sound reverberates off of. Sound travels in the mountains more so, so the noise comes pretty consistently, and there’s not necessarily a solution from a noise standpoint,” Fox explained.
Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers said that additional patrols from the Blowing Rock Police Department have been taking place on Highway 321.
“Our police chief and our town manager have been aware of this problem for a good while and have been working on it diligently, working in conversation with DOT and the new signage has been ordered to go along Valley Boulevard,” Sellers said. “Speeding is a problem everywhere, not just Valley Boulevard. It’s everywhere across the country. We’re going to do our best to mediate and resolve some of it.”
Citizens are encouraged to attend Tuesday’s town council meeting at 6 p.m. The meeting can also be watched online through the Town of Blowing Rock website.
The petition says the following:
Take measures to lessen noise and speeding on Route 321 through Blowing Rock, NC
Blowing Rock Council Members:
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Blowing Rock Town Council use every tool at its disposal, and take substantial, active measures to alleviate the noise, and speeding (contributory to the noise) along Rt. 321. Various suggestion have previously been made to the Council. These include, but are not limited to:
1. Painting large (i.e. 10 ft high) “35 MPH” lettering on the roadway entering Blowing Rock on Rt. 321, in both directions, and at intervals throughout the bypass.
2. Posting “Speed Radar Enforced” signs at the entrance to town on Rt. 321 as well as along the bypass.
3. Purchasing multiple, additional speed monitoring units that flash red and blue when the traveling speed exceeds the posted limit (35 MPH).
4. Training the town police officers to pull over tractor trailers, with the support of the State Police, if necessary, and making active efforts to pull over and to ticket speed violating tractor trailers.
5. Purchasing decibel meters, and training the Blowing Rock Police to correctly utilize this equipment in order to support adherence to NC Statute 20-128, and to step up enforcement actions in this regard.
6. Installing signage “Vehicles generating excessive noise violate NC statute 20-128 and will be ticketed”
7. Requesting that the DOT authorize “Entering Green Park Historic District” BROWN SIGNS at both entrances to the Historic District, and posting “speed radar enforced” signs proximate to these signs.
8. Communicating with the local judicial authorities (involving the State government, if necessary) regarding the urgency of the situation and requesting that they no longer take the position that up to 10 MPH over the speed limit is not speeding.
9. Hiring additional law enforcement personnel dedicated to patrolling the bypass (recruiting part time, off duty personnel from other localities if necessary).
Numerous property owners do not currently enjoy the peaceful use of their properties, and there is strong evidence to suggest that property values have declined in many areas of our community due to the issues outlined here. Numerous business along 321 are also struggling with guest and customer complaints because of this worsening problem. And, every resident of the Town of Blowing Rock is aware that US Hwy 321 through Blowing Rock has become nothing more than a commuters corridor, traversed, daily, by vehicles with little to no connection to our beautiful town, nor with any intention to “stop and smell the roses” that Blowing Rock, the Crown of the Blue Ridge offers.
It is past time for the Council to actively engage in resolving these problems. Numerous property and business owners stand ready to support the Council in these actions by offering examples of towns wherein each and every one of our stated recommendations have been implemented. In short, simply responding that “we’re doing everything we can” is no longer an acceptable position. More has to be done, and more can be done.