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Highway 105 Project Discussion to be Added to Boone Town Council Agenda

By Nathan Ham

Following comments and concerns from several local businesses along Highway 105, Boone Town Manager John Ward said on Wednesday evening that discussion of the Highway 105 “Superstreet” Project would be added to one of the upcoming town council meetings.

Ward said that the item would be on the agenda either for October 16 or October 18 to allow the town council to view the proposal, collect information and weigh in on the road project if they choose to.

“The first time that town staff and I have seen any of the renderings were in the press release from the DOT,” Ward said. “It is a state route and the council has been supportive of requested improvements to 105, but were unaware of any of the current proposed design elements.”

According to Ward, town staff and elected officials will be meeting with the NCDOT prior to the public meeting scheduled on October 9 at 4 p.m. at Caldwell Community College.

“We are aware of a lot of concerns and we have talked with a lot of businesses, especially those that are potentially being removed because of the proposed project,” said Ward. “This was a project that was identified as needing attention when the Watauga County Transportation Plan was adopted in 2011. With changing elected officials and changing staff, this is the first time anybody has really seen the design.”

Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants owner Jeff Collins has been one of the most vocal of the businesses along Highway 105 that would be impacted by this project.

“I’ve worked my entire career to be able to afford a property at this main intersection on Highway 105 for a retail establishment. With this plan, they’re going to ruin it as a retail spot. I would expect to do half the business that has taken me 40 years to develop by losing that customer base because they can’t get in here,” Collins said in a previous story. “Highway 105 is not an interstate highway, it doesn’t need to be divided off. It needs to be made accessible. Slow traffic down, put in turn lanes, put in bike lanes, fix the sidewalks that are in shambles and make it a small town, business-friendly street.”

The proposed design redirects across-the-highway turns from side streets by directing traffic — including from the N.C. 105 Bypass — to turn right then make a U-turn at a safe location with a traffic signal. The new directions drastically reduce the possibility of T-bone and head-on crashes, according to the NCDOT.

“Safety is NCDOT’s top priority,” Division 11 Project Manager Ramie Shaw said. “That is why we build superstreets and install medians, particularly on corridors with heavy traffic volumes and high crash rates.”

The total crash rate on N.C. 105 between N.C. 105 Bypass and Dogwood Road is nearly double the statewide average for similar roads. An unacceptably high crash rate also exists on N.C. 105 from Dogwood Road to Faculty Street, which necessitates improvements.

The project also includes five-foot wide bicycle lanes in both directions, and the possibility of sidewalks pending an agreement with the town of Boone.

“The design is intended to reduce the risk of crashes, especially high-speed intersection crashes,” Shaw said. “This design includes medians that redirect drivers on side roads to turn right on N.C. 105 then safely head to their destination with the support of a signal. It is much safer for everybody.”

According to data provided by the NCDOT, traffic on Highway 105 has increased almost 25 percent over the last seven years. An average of 26,000 cars traveled Highway 105 per day in 2009. That number has increased to 32,000 drivers per day as of 2016. That number is expected to increase as time goes along.

Maps and additional information for this initial proposal are available at the NCDOT public meetings website.

NCDOT says that the design is far from complete and that transportation officials are seeking thoughts from those who travel on N.C. 105 and will incorporate those ideas as the design process continues.

Attendees, and those who can’t attend the meeting may submit written comments, questions and suggestions via mail, email or phone until Oct. 24. Those comments will be considered as the project develops.

David Uchiyama, the Western NC Public Relations Officers for the NCDOT, says that the Town of Boone and the High Country Rural Planning Organization “have a seat at the table” for road projects like this and that the planning organization is “one of the key cogs to supporting transportation projects.”

As for the impact on businesses, there has not been a study directly linked to the “Superstreet” project on Highway 105, however according to Uchiyama, other studies have been conducted across the state.

“The NCDOT has conducted studies over the years at other locations where a uperstreet have been installed and no significant increase or decrease in business impact has been found,” said Uchiyama. “We’ve certainly heard those concerns before claiming medians hurt their sales. However you have to consider how many folks don’t go to those businesses because it’s dangerous to get there to and from.”

Uchiyama wanted to stress that this plan is not set in stone and that feedback is important for this and any other project.

“We’re looking for input from residence, business owners, and anybody that travels that corridor. We want them to come in with an open mind and take in the whole corridor and not a single location,” said Uchiyama.

Comments will be responded to between six and eight weeks after the comment period closes and feasible ideas for the project will move forward.