By Nathan Ham
Town officials and the general public got a first-hand glimpse at the initial draft proposal for ways to improve traffic flow and safety on Wilson Ridge Road and Bamboo Road during a public meeting that took place Thursday evening at the Boone Moose Lodge.
The plan will allow for the widening of Wilson Ridge Road and Bamboo Road as well as taking away some of the sharpness of curves on Wilson Ridge between Ridge Crest Road and Bamboo Road.
The biggest part of the project will be the additions of three roundabouts at three highly-congested intersections that can make it difficult at times for drivers to turn left or right. The roundabouts will be located at the intersections of Wilson Ridge Road and Deerfield Road, Wilson Ridge Road and Bamboo Road and Bamboo Road and Brook Hollow Road.
“With the roundabouts, I think it’s going to resolve a lot of the traffic issues that have been experienced on that road,” said Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque.
Geouque also confirmed that part of the NCDOT plan would be to remove the steep “S” curves on Wilson Ridge Road that have been an issue for travelers for a long time. He was not sure what the steepness grade of the road would be or if truckers would be allowed to use that road once construction is completed. Currently there is a sign posted before Wilson Ridge Road alerting truckers to not use that road, however that sign gets ignored quite a bit with truck drivers getting their trailers stuck in those curves.
According to the NCDOT, the lanes on Bamboo and Wilson Ridge will be widened to 12 feet and will include retaining walls as well as paved shoulders. Including the road widening and the traffic circle construction, the project’s current estimated cost is $9.5 million. Right-of-way acquisitions, which are not factored into that estimated cost total, is expected to begin later this year with construction starting in 2020.
One of the criticisms of this project from town residents is the lack of sidewalks or bike lanes in this area. According to the initial draft, there are no plans to place sidewalks on any part of Bamboo or Wilson Ridge Roads.
Dave Freireich, who is part of a group of individuals advocating for safe bicycle and pedestrian travel called Harmony Lanes, said that the group is hoping to get enough comments and input to county and town officials as well as the NCDOT to be able to get them to consider adding sidewalks or bike lanes to this project.
“The project is a great big improvement for vehicular traffic with modern standards and it’s going to help cars flow through there a lot better, but they really need to look at the need for sidewalks for people trying to get to the Hospitality House. They’ve got room for really nice bike lanes, we know we’re never going to get another chance for getting this thing built and now seems like a really great opportunity for them to be able to do what a lot of people are asking for,” said Freireich.
Freireich, who attended the public meeting on Thursday, said that he felt like the NCDOT was certainly open to the thought of potentially adding some sort of lane or sidewalk for pedestrian and bike traffic but that would require the county to take over maintenance of the sidewalks.
“The DOT builds sidewalks and bike lanes, but do not maintain. A lot of people there were saying the same thing. A lot of these poor people that don’t have cars that are trying to walk to the Hospitality House need a protected sidewalk, not just something on the side of the road where you’re six inches away from cars going by at 35 or 45 MPH, they need something that’s safe. That’s one thing that nobody has really pushed for in Watauga County, but a lot of people are wanting it.”
Freireich added that is one of the reasons why the Harmony Lanes group came together, to give people a voice that may not own cars or may have cars but choose to bike or walk to places where they need to go.
With the expansion that Boone is seeing on the eastern end of town and will see in the future, including the space where the Town of Boone plans to move a lot of their administrative offices to in the future just off of Highway 421 as well as the approval of the Grove Street Extension for the Greenway Trail that will start in 2025.
“As Boone keeps expanding eastward, there are going to be more and more people in that area trying to walk and bike. It’s a great opportunity for the DOT to build something that would be completely different than what we had before as far as biking and pedestrian infrastructure,” said Freireich. “We have an active population here in Boone with a lot of people that want to ride bikes and walk, we would like to see them build something that meets peoples needs and lets them do it safely.”
Geouque said that there had been some discussions about constructing sidewalks or bike lanes with this NCDOT project, but there are some issues with that including having to acquire more property and coming up with the funding to do that.
“It was brought up at the meeting and I think DOT said they would be willing to try to provide some sort of walking trail, sidewalk or path from Brook Hollow Road up to where the Exxon is,” Geouque said.
Public comments on the project will be accepted through March 8 and can be delivered by mail, email or telephone. Comments should be sent to:
Divsion 11 Project Manager
801 Statesville Road
North Wilkesboro, NC 28659
PDF files of the initial draft unveiled this week can be found below.