By Nathan Ham
A crowd of over 100 concerned citizens and business owners came out to Tuesday’s North Carolina Department of Transportation public meeting at Caldwell Community College.
NCDOT officials as well as representatives from Mott MacDonald, an engineering and development consulting firm, were on hand to answer questions in hopes of alleviating some of the concerns that have been raised by the recent release of the Highway 105 Superstreet plans, particularly from business owners along the road.
According to the NCDOT, the purpose of the project is to alleviate traffic congestion, improve travel conditions, improve access management and enhance bicycle accommodations. The overall goal of any Superstreet project is to improve safety by limiting the number of “conflict points” between vehicles by limiting the number of left turns and make traveling through intersections more efficient.
The new highway construction will feature two travel lanes in each direction as it is now with a concrete raised median with width varying from six feet to 23 feet. The project will also add curbing and guttering along inside and outside travel lanes as well as a five-foot bicycle lane along the outside travel lane.
At the meeting, NCDOT documents provided to those in attendance indicated that the estimated total cost for the project based on the NCDOT State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) was $10,590,000. Environmental studies are expected to conclude by December of this year with right-of-way acquisition beginning in June of 2019 and construction starting in June of 2021.
Prior to the public meeting, a special meeting with NCDOT officials that included Boone Town Council members, Boone town staff, Boone Police Department, Boone Fire Department, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and Watauga County Schools allowed for questions from the town officials to be answered during a brief presentation from the Mott MacDonald representatives.
Aileen Mayhew, one of the consultants for Mott MacDonald, explained that due to high traffic volumes and after thorough analysis from the NCDOT, a Superstreet plan is the best course of action for improving Highway 105.
“This corridor has a lot of traffic. The average in 2009 was 26,000 cars (per day), which increased by 2016 to 32,000 cars. Superstreets help alleviate congestion,” said Mayhew.
Mayhew also highlighted the decrease in “conflict points” at intersections. With a standard intersection, there are 32 conflict points, however with a Superstreet design, there are only 14 conflict points at intersections, which should decrease the potential for accidents along the road.
“There was a study done in North Carolina from 1998 through 2012 that showed a 59 percent reduction in total crashes and a 71 percent reduction in fatal injuries by installing a Superstreet,” said Mayhew.
The impact on local businesses along Highway 105 has been brought up quite often since the NCDOT made the first draft of the proposal public, another concern that Mayhew touched on during her presentation.
“In 2015, N.C. State University did a study of the economic effect on local businesses at median installations and it resulted in a variety of experiences,” said Mayhew. “Some businesses reported negative effects through the survey feedback analysis. Others showed either no effect or a positive effect. Negative effects on local businesses may occur during the construction period but overall, the synopsis of the existing research indicated that median projects have a positive effect or no effect on business.”
Left turns onto Highway 105 will be limited to Wilson Drive where drivers will still be able to make a left turn onto Highway 105. All other drivers coming off of side roads and parking lots will have to make a right turn and use one of the U-turn “bulb outs” to go back the other direction. In its current proposal, Appalachian State students, faculty and staff will be able to make a left turn from Highway 105 into the new “App 105” area, formerly the home of Watauga High School. However as they leave, all drivers will have to make a right turn out of the App 105 area.
As for patrons wanting to make a left turn into businesses that are near the Highway 321 intersection such as Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants, Courtyard by Marriott, 1st Tracks Ski and others, drivers will have to continue straight through the Highway 105 and Highway 321 intersection and up the hill on the 105 Extension where another U-turn bulb out will be constructed as part of another project, according to Mayhew.
Boone Town Council member Lynne Mason asked about some safety concerns with the road, particularly how fire trucks, police and EMTs would be able to cross the highway to respond to emergencies.
According to Michael Pekarek, another consultant with Mott MacDonald, the medians will be mountable for vehicles, similar to how the medians are on Highway 421, or the medians will be grass and can be driven over.
If you were unable to make it to the public meeting on Tuesday and would still like to share comments on input on the project, you can do that by mail or email by October 24. Comments can be emailed to Ramie Shaw at [email protected] or to Aileen Mayhew at [email protected].
Comments can be mailed to the following:
Division 11 Project Manager
P.O. Box 250
North Wilkesboro, NC, 28659
Aileen Mayhew, PE
Consultant Project Manager
7621 Purfoy Road, Suite 115
Fuquay-Varina, NC, 27526