By Jesse Wood
Aug. 24, 2012. Because of declining traffic volumes, N.C. Department of Transportation is “changing the overall scope and size” of the N.C. 105 four-lane widening project from Linville to Boone, according to Project Manager Elmo Vance.
Vance said congestion was the “driver” of the project, and the initial project plans were based on traffic figures from 2005. In May, NCDOT officials received an updated traffic forecast showing these lower figures, which Vance attributed to a lagging economy.
“Traffic numbers are going down,” Vance said. “Therefore it brings down the scope or the magnitude that we were initially thinking before. Those numbers have dwindled and will not support the four-lane facility all the way through.”
He added that this is “not to say four lanes aren’t needed in areas.”
The two-part project consists of widening 14.6 miles of N.C. 105 from U.S. 221 in Linville to the N.C. 105 Bypass in Boone. Section A runs from Linville to Clark’s Creek Road in Foscoe. It has yet to be funded or scheduled. Section B runs from Clark’s Creek Road to Boone. Section B is estimated to cost $103 million with right-of-way acquisition beginning May 2015 and a tentative construction date of March 2018.
Throughout most of the project corridor, a 23-foot wide median will be featured with a minimum right-of-way width variable of 130 feet. The median will be narrowed to 4 feet wide in some areas to reduce impacts but will still feature a minimum right-of-way width variable of 85 feet. Curb and gutter is to be added in some of the more populated areas.
The project included replacing of the bridge over Watauga River at Broadstone Road, which Vance said would likely still happen along with the addition of a turning lane at that intersection.
Not wanting to be too specific, Vance said the NCDOT is currently analyzing data to necessitate what improvements are justified with the current traffic load.
By early 2013, the NCDOT will present its findings to the public in a similar fashion as the community meetings held last August.
Geoff Roten, owner of Swedish Werke Inc., said he was relieved that the widening will be scaled down. He has been vocal about the “pointlessness” of a four-lane highway through the nearly 15-mile stretch and has acted as a community organizer of sorts along with Dr. Gail Hoyme who lives in the project’s target area.
Swedish Werke is located off of N.C. 105 in Foscoe. His shop’s building is 30-some feet off the highway and his parking lot is starts less than 10 feet from the highway. Depending on what the NCDOT does on his property, the project could effectively wipe out his whole business.
“If you have 400 feet of study are with a 150-foot wide road, [the widening effort] could fall on either side [of the highway],” Roten said. “We had no idea where the road was going to go and which side it would go.”
He is one of many who have claimed that the widening will decimate the community of Foscoe – just like other communities in the region that have become defunct after a major highway change. He also fears that the luster of the area, which is why people visit the region, would be no more.
“Look at Deep Gap. When they [created the U.S. 421 Bypass], all the businesses pretty much died,” Roten said, adding that his business will fair better than others because it provides a “specialized” service repairing European vehicles.
“[Foscoe] Family Billiards and [Club Shops Peanuts and Golf], places like that. Are people going to go out of their way to turn around and come back, or are they just going to hit up the next shop,” Roten said. “Like when you drive on the interstate – If you aren’t about to run out of gas, if you miss the exit, chances are you are just going to take the next. [You aren’t going to turn around].”
He also called the $2 million that NCDOT allocated for right-of-way acquisition – of mostly commercial, prime and flat property – ridiculous, adding that the property is “appraised for way more than that.”
Roten favors a center turning lane from Seven Devils to the stoplight at Broadstone Road, stating it would solve “lots of problems” involving wrecks, “declog” traffic congestion and increase the ease of people turning into businesses.
“I would sacrifice a row of parking to put in a turning lane,” he said. “Nobody likes change, but if it is logical, I am all for it.”
Since Roten was 16, he has worked along N.C. 105 whether it was in Banner Elk or Foscoe. He started working at Swedish Werke in 2000, and when the previous owner passed away, he took over the business four years ago.
If the worse case widening scenario were to happen to him, Roten said this is the way he looks at it:
“Here I am a new business owner with a wife and kid. I have effectively paid enough taxes to kick myself out of a business.”