High Country Council proposes road improvements for bikes

Wil Petty Staff Writer

October 31, 2013

Several of Ashe County’s major roads could see changes following recommendations by a local government agency to make the routes safer for area cyclists.

Over 40 improvements were proposed by the High Country Council of Government, throughout the seven counties it covers.

“The first piece was us looking at roads we are recommending improvements on,” said Phil Trew, director of planning and development for the HCCOG. “In Ashe County, that’s basically all state and U.S. routes, except for N.C. 16 north.”

Recommendations included adding four-to-five feet paved shoulders or bike lanes.

Trew said that while some of those routes are not heavily traveled by cyclists now, they eventually could be.

Improvements are also prioritized in order of importance stated by the members that were behind the plan.

High priority routes in Ashe include: N.C. 194 through Todd and Baldwin, U.S. 221 from 194 in Baldwin to West Jefferson and N.C. Highways 16 and 88 from U.S. 221-business in Jefferson to U.S. 21 in Sparta.

“This is a very long-range plan,” Trew said. “For example, we’re recommending that N.C. 194 be improved from Warrensville to the Virginia state line. Who knows when there would be enough development or traffic to warrant a road improvement project, so it’s very long term.”

Alongside the improvements, the plan also calls for each county to have a recreational route to promote tourism for cycling in the High Country.

In Ashe County, the proposed route is 31 miles, which will use several highways and roads through the county.

“The idea of a recreational route is to help promote tourism by having an identified route,” Trew said. “We hope that implementation comes quickly, because all that is needed there is signage along the route where the turns are.”

Trew said there is no guarantee of safety along the route, but through improving the roads and adding shoulders it will improve a cyclist’s safety.

“We are recommending that when a highway gets worked on, shoulders or a bike lane are added to increase safety,” he said.

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, a public workshop was held to discuss the different recommendations and to receive public input. The potential for tourism was also discussed.

“This is primarily a facility improvement plan,” Trew said. “With the inclusion of those seven recreational routes, it does recognize the tourism potential of cycling.”

Trew will present the bike plan and ask for its adoption by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 18. Trew said that while the plan is long-term, there will be pieces that can be quickly implemented.

“I think the important thing for everybody to know about (the bike plan) is that its implementation is tied to road improvements and N.C. DOT funding,” he said.