By Nathan Ham
North Carolina Senator Deanna Ballard, Representative Jonathan Jordan and other curious business owners spoke before a crowd of around 75 people on Thursday afternoon at the Courtyard by Marriott. The discussions all pertained to the recent first draft of the Highway 105 “Superstreet” proposal from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Jeff Collins, the owner of Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants, helped organize this meeting to put together a strong, unified force before next week’s public meeting with the NCDOT.
“I wanted to have businesses here, local politicians here and really discuss a vision for what 105 is other than what the DOT is proposing,” Collins said. “For me and for everyone else I’ve talked to, it doesn’t make sense for the business community, some things don’t seem to make sense at all. I really just wanted to get everybody that’s here on the same page so when it comes time to ask the DOT for changes, they’re not getting 100 different things. Collectively we need to have a voice that makes sense for everybody.”
Both Ballard and Jordan said that the best way for business owners, land owners and home owners that could be impacted by this project to have their voice heard was to come together as a group and pack the building at next week’s public comment session at Caldwell Community College on October 9 at 4 p.m.
“Remember that this is just a first draft. There is still definitely room to work with the design itself,” Ballard said.
She also added that on Highway 321 in Caldwell County where another superstreet project is on the drawing board, NCDOT engineers and road designers sat down with business owners to “talk through what the options were.”
“Just know that as you go into the public hearing period next week, that public hearing is critical. It’s imperative that you show up, voice your concerns and see you in masses basically,” Ballard said. “They need to see the impact that it’s going to have locally.
Ballard, who is a Boone resident, also suggested the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce write a letter for area businesses to sign to send to the NCDOT as well as possible town resolutions from the Boone town council and county resolutions from the Watauga County Commissioners to voice their concerns for the current design of the project.
“I’ve found that in this project with Highway 321 they (NCDOT) have been pretty open to ideas and suggestions so don’t think this is something that they are not going to take seriously or they’re not going to look at,” said Ballard. “I think some of these projects have been in the works for so long that when they roll it out to get a pulse on what the impact could be and what it might look like, and then they start tweaking it.”
Rep. Jordan compared this project to what they are currently doing in Ashe County with widening U.S. Highway 221 from West Jefferson to Deep Gap. That road also includes the U-turn “bulb outs” and eliminates the left turns from side roads onto Highway 221.
“I’ve found that in specific instances along Highway 221, they (NCDOT) will work with you and have worked with us in the past,” said Jordan. “What you’re doing now, uniting is absolutely the way to do it and working with your specific situations I think they will be willing to help you.”
Boone Area Chamber of Commerce CEO David Jackson also spoke briefly in support of these local businesses coming together to share their thoughts on the road project.
“I think a strong, unified voice is going to be very important in this process. We need to make sure folks know that we’re not irrational, we have fact-based thoughts and we’re going to present that in a positive manner,” said Jackson. “The chamber is there to support you guys, we’re as pro business as anything at this point in time.”
Boone Town Manager John Ward and Boone town council member Lynne Mason were both at the meeting to share the thought process that the town of Boone had as it pertained to this future road construction project.
“I was shocked to see this plan brought forward and the process used,” said Mason.
Mason was part of the committee that developed the comprehensive transportation plan for Watauga County over several years that included input from Boone, Watauga County officials, Appalachian State and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I don’t think anyone would argue that we need to do something for 105 however the recommendation that came out of this committee and has been endorsed by the town of Boone is the concept of the bypass. It was important to the committee that we retain this road as business-friendly as a boulevard concept,” Mason said. “We were reassured that the bypass was needed to help get the traffic counts down to the level that this road (Highway 105) could handle without having to encroach on the property of adjacent business.”
According to Ward, the Highway 105 Bypass did not score high enough on the NCDOT’s priority list for any road improvements.
Mason says that the original intent of the comprehensive transportation plan was to keep Highway 105 as business-friendly as possible, not what has been proposed so far by the NCDOT.
“I’m not sure what the end goal is here but that was not what was supported by the comprehensive plan,” she said.
Ward said that the town council and members of the town staff will be at the upcoming public hearing to get a better feel on this project.
“We have called a special meeting for the Boone Town Council to meet with the DOT on the ninth prior to the public hearing and I’ve directed staff from public works, police and fire all to be at the meeting because I’ve got major concerns about this resulting in neighborhood cut through traffic as well as our responsibility to get directly to life safety issues with fire trucks, ambulances and police when we’re doing all these loops,” Ward said. “The town council encouraged safety enhancements but nobody on the town council or staff had seen these renderings until they were released by the DOT.”
Ward added that he is planning on putting this Highway 105 project on one of the agendas for the upcoming Boone Town Council meetings, either October 16 or October 18.