By: James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@heartlandpress.com
September 23, 2012
The N.C. Department of Transportation has set a tentative date for construction on US 221 to expand the road into a four-lane from Jefferson to Deep Gap.
“We still need some more information before we start, but we want to begin construction in early 2015,” said Trent Beaver, with NCDOT. This is based on available funds, he said.
Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell said, “Having 221 widened will be a benefit to the county for two reasons.”
The first reason is safety.
Mitchell said widening US 221 addresses safety concerns above all else. “221 is a relatively narrow road with unforgiving curves, and widening the road should make it safer,” she said.
This safety concern is especially true for large transport vehicles that carry goods in and out of the county, said Mitchell.
The second benefit will be an increase in economic development.
According to Mitchell, having better transportation for large vehicles should promote commerce between the surrounding counties.
“Since we (Ashe County) have global industries and large Christmas tree farms, the county uses tractor trailers to transport goods. Having a four-lane road should assist the county’s businesses.”
Mitchell also said a wider US 221 could be an asset to recruit new businesses to the area.
“Often, one of the criteria for a big business locating to an area is the area’s distance to an interstate or a four-lane road,” said Mitchell.
According to Beaver, the four-lane US 221 will begin at the intersection with US 421 at Deep Gap, and continue until the road crosses into Jefferson at the five-lane intersection of East Main Street and Cherry Drive.
“The project will be divided into five different segments to make the project more manageable,” said Beaver.
Beaver also said the road will have a grass median dividing northbound and southbound. Plus, the width of the median will range from 23 feet wide to 36 feet wide. The width of the median depends on the available space for road construction.
“We basically have enough right of way to begin the project right now, but there are a few areas that we still need some planning for,” said Beaver.
Additionally, Beaver said, “Someone must have had the vision to expand US 221 before I started working here, because the DOT has already gained access to most of the land it needs to expand the road.”
According to Beaver, the DOT is planning to have a public hearing by the end of the year; hopefully, before the holiday season is in full swing. Beaver said he would like to see the hearing held in a location like Ashe County High School.
At the public hearing, DOT plans to give a presentation about widening the road, said Beaver. He also said the public will be encouraged to ask questions and make comments during the hearing.
Beaver said the date and location for the public hearing will soon be announced.