By Joe Johnson
After over an hour of discussion by the Boone Town Council regarding the Hwy. 105 Superstreet project at Thursday night’s meeting, a motion was passed to allow more time for conversations with the DOT and the public before the council would feel comfortable with giving the latest DOT proposed plans a yes or no vote.
Several changes from the original NCDOT from last fall were presented to town and county officials, including adding a U-turn bulb-out prior to the Blowing Rock Road intersection, a U-turn bulb-out near the Ingles shopping center and a left turn lane from the Highway 105 Bypass onto Highway 105 at presentation on March 14. At that meeting, NCDOT officials basically told the Watauga County Commissioners and Boone Town Council this was a take it or leave it offer as no further design changes are anticipated for the project as far as they were concern.
The Watauga County Commissioners voted in favor of the proposed changes from the N.C. Department of Transportation on the N.C. 105 superstreet project at their meeting on March 19.
Lynne Mason started off the discussion saying that she had been giving the proposed plan a great deal of thought and had spent time researching the Superstreet concept and talking with people, “Though I am frustrated, as many of the community are with the lack of details in the concept presented by DOT, I don’t want to miss the opportunity for much needed safety and road improvements for this section of 105,” said Mason, “I would support a resolution in support of this project, but with the stipulation that DOT conduct a public planning meeting with local elected officials and citizens due to the many remaining questions with the concept.” With safety as a number one concern she thought the plan was attempting to address that issue, but she still had concerns if the plan was a good fit for the town, and businesses and neighborhoods along the Hwy. 105 corridor. Mason’s main concern was that Boone would miss out on the on the Hwy. 105 Superstreet funding available from the NCDOT for the project that might not become available for another 10 to 15 years.
Next to speak was Sam Furgiuele who had a real problem with how the NCDOT had handle the whole process, “I am not prepared to support this. I have to say I found the attitude of DOT incredibly disturbing, number one,” said Furgiuele, “What they said to us essentially was, ‘This is this design for the highway. You either take it or leave it. If you don’t do it, we will never do anything to this road even though we recognize there are safety concerns.’” He felt the NCDOT had not given enough information, answered enough questions or made themselves available to the town and the public regarding the design and concerns that have been raised, “They didn’t invite the public, there wasn’t an opportunity for people to react,” Furgiuele added, “There’s so little detail, people don’t even know what they’re reacting to! I would say, on the face of it, it appears to be better than the first thing, but I think that the first plan was disastrous for the town. It looks like a superhighway coming through town to move traffic fast from outside of town to the center of town, not to serve the residents; I don’t think the town residents or the business really even enter into the formula.”
Connie Ulmer expressed her concerns that no matter what is done the roadway, she feels that it may be more of a human problem than a design issue, “When people look at all these little accidents, did they look to see how many people were speeding through there, drinking through there, not paying attention to the lights that existed, turning right on red,” asked Ulmer, “The question is: Is it the road? Is it construction? Or is it the people?” Ulmer pointed out that speeding along the Hwy. 105 corridor is a major problem with speeds greatly ascending the 35 MPH limit in place now. She suggestion that there could be other ways to slow down traffic using more stop lights and even speed bumps.
Marshall Ashcraft also expressed his concern with missing out on the NCDOT funds that are available now for the project that won’t become available again for another decade, “I would not be willing to vote against the proposal, however, because I feel like we cannot walk away from these improvements,” said Ashcraft, “I would like to have more information, if I had to vote one way or the other, I would not vote against this proposal. I don’t think we can walk away from the possibility of doing something, even if it’s less than perfect.” Ashcraft has concerns with the plan as well but feels walking away from the funding would be a mistake,
Lorreta Clawson expressed her concerns with the plan as she has heard from people and businesses who would be effected the most along the highway.
After more discussion the motion was passed to hold a public planning meeting with citizens and a representative from the DOT present to answer specific questions. “I move that we schedule a meeting with NCDOT to discuss further the project of the 105 extension,” declared Ulmer, “We want to have comments and questions from the public to find out what they’re thinking. It’s better that they see the DOT there because they can answer questions that we can’t answer.”