By Nathan Ham
On Tuesday night, the Boone Town Council voted by a 3-2 margin to shoot down the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Highway 105 Superstreet proposal. Mayor Pro Tem Loretta Clawson, Councilman Sam Furgiuele and Councilman Marshall Ashcraft voted against the superstreet proposal while Connie Ulmer and Lynne Mason voted their support for the project.
On Wednesday morning, NCDOT board member Cullie Tarleton told the High Country Press that the NCDOT would respect the decision of the town council and move on from any current plans to change Highway 105.
“While we respect the vote of council, I’m disappointed for the citizens of Boone that the project is not going to go forward. It has been a safety issue and that’s what it has been about all along,” Tarleton said. “As far as the DOT is concerned, the revised plan that we gave council is what we are proposing, they have turned that down and the project will not be going forward.”
NCDOT Division 11 Engineer Mike Pettyjohn also confirmed that the Highway 105 Superstreet project would not continue.
“As we told the town, we wanted their concurrence if we were to proceed. We will now take action to remove the project from the State Transportation Improvement Program,” Pettyjohn said.
Following the numerous emails and public comments shared with council members, including at last night’s meeting from town resident Lynn White, business owner Charles Ulery, town resident Barbara Julien, town resident Emily Haas, business owner Rick Pedroni and business owner JP Pardy, the decision was made to oppose the plan for Highway 105.
“Everything that was said tonight resonated with me. I think that all the comments were well made and well taken and I have to say I am opposed to this. I don’t think the superstreet is the right design for the town of Boone and I don’t think DOT has the slightest concern about the impact on the merchants in Boone or the residents in Boone,” said Fergiuele.
Fergiuele also took offense with the previous ultimatum from the NCDOT that they would have a “take it or leave it” approach to this proposal; either constructing the road based on NCDOT proposals or do nothing at all.
“It feels like there’s a gun being held to our heads. My feeling is if this project was so good then I don’t think you have to threaten us with it. Show us how good it is and then we would endorse it,” he said. “We have no information on how much it’s going to cost us, we have no information on how many businesses are going to go down, so why would we do this?”
Lynne Mason, who said she really struggled with making a decision on this issue, thought that the safety of drivers and pedestrians on the road made the superstreet proposal a worthwhile improvement to make.
“If we do nothing, we’re going to have the same transportation challenges there. We will have accidents that gridlock 105 keeping people from getting to their destination. I don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think a center turn lane is going to work. I have to rely on some of the transportation studies where the right in, right out option, though it may be more of an inconvenience, there is a safety element there,” said Mason. “I am very conflicted with this because I’m afraid not doing something will have long-term detrimental impacts.”
Mason also acknowledged that if the town chose not to work with the NCDOT on making this project happen, then it would be highly unlikely that there would be any sidewalks or bike lanes on Highway 105 anytime soon.
“If it is the will of the council not to move forward, I think we all have to realize that we will be living with what we have for an indefinite time period,” she said.
Loretta Clawson spent several hours before Easter speaking to business owners up and down Highway 105 before she made her decision on the project.
“Highway 105 is a business corridor. I have visited many of them. It’s their livelihood and this is how they make their living. I think that many of them will be impacted,” she said. “I have no resentment towards DOT, but I think sometimes there are people designing things in Raleigh for areas that they aren’t even familiar with. I just don’t believe in my heart of hearts that this is what we need right now.”
Marshall Ashcraft admitted that prior to Tuesday’s meeting, he felt like he would be voting to support the project. However as he thought about the unanswered questions by the NCDOT and the unknown amount of money that the town of Boone would have to chip in to the project for sidewalks or a potential multi-modal pathway, he could not support the project in its current form without more details.
“There are just too many unanswered questions about the cost and design elements. I think we’d be buying into something that we can’t see the end result of,” said Ashcraft.
Connie Ulmer, who said she spent a lot of time researching these types of roads and intersections, expressed gratitude for what the NCDOT had put together for the plan and believed that safety should be the top concern for this project and was the main reason she supported it.
“I appreciate all of the work that the three engineers have done and they sound extremely skilled and knowledgeable, I trust they picked the superstreet design because I thought they studied the area and know which design fits Boone best,” she said. “This is about a town with a big street causing people to get hurt and we have the power to do something about it.”
Representative Ray Russell issued a statement saying that “Highway 105 between Highway 321 and Highway 105 Extension in Boone is unsafe given the current traffic volume. These safety problems will only get worse with countless deaths, injuries and untold cost. No small change in the highway can possibly fix these serious safety problems.”
Rep. Russell continued on hoping that something could still be done with Highway 105.
“Initial NCDOT plans for the Highway 105 redesign were seriously flawed. Also, the economic impact of businesses along the corridor is enormous and must be considered,” said Russell. “During the last eight months, community leaders and NCDOT resolved many problems with the original plans. I hope conversations about this project will continue. I look forward to working with NCDOT and community leaders to reach a solution that is beneficial for the entire community.”