The focus of the Thursday, April 24 meeting of the Ashe County Planning Board focused on how to help encourage employment in the county and how transportation and infrastructure will play a role.
Planning Director Adam Stumb began the discussion by talking about the largest employers in Ashe County. They are: Ashe Public Schools, AEV, Ashe County Government and Ashe Memorial Hospital.
Stumb said all of the county’s largest employers were located in the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson, where water and sewer are readily available. The only exception was United Chemi-Con, located near Warrensville, which has its own system in place.
The fields with the largest number of jobs was agriculture, utilities and education/health.
“Agriculture still remains the main industry in the county,” Stumb said.
Planning Board chair Gene Hafer asked if he was surprised about tourism jobs not being among the highest number on the list of job fields.
“Were you surprised that tourism was the last one on the list,” he said. “We talk so much about tourism and what it has become to Ashe County.”
Board member Priscilla Cox mentioned the statistics could have also depended on what time of year the information was gathered.
Stumb said there were several different factors including what was considered a “tourism job.”
“That’s part of the problem, you know, depending on how they clarify tourism, could that be a park ranger or canoe (instructor)? Does that count Ashe County Cheese? Waitresses? People that serve a tourist but not necessarily in the tourism industry,” Stumb said.
Next, the discussion moved from talking about the employment situation in Ashe County to discussing the county’s transportation and infrastructure needs.
Talks began on the U.S. 221 project expansion, giving board members a reminder of the plans for that project from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“Once you get past (U.S. 221) project, you kind of have to be thinking about planning your next projects,” Stumb said.
Some of the other projects and improvements slated by the Ashe County Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) in 2010 include improving the intersection of U.S. 221 Business and Beaver Creek School Road, improving Mount Jefferson Road from Ashe County High School to Lowes Hardware, improving N.C. 88 and N.C. 194 from the Jeffersons to Warrensville and improving N.C. 194 at Radio Hill to accomodate traffic.
Also proposed are two new roads within the county. The first road would be a N.C. 16 Connector which would run from the intersection of N.C. 16 and U.S. 221 to N.C. 88 west of Jefferson. The second road would be a bypass for N.C. 194 to reroute traffic, particularly 18-wheelers, around West Jefferson.
Cox then mentioned the hazard for pedestrians on U.S. 221 Business between Jefferson and West Jefferson, due to the aging and worn out sidewalks, combined with tight curves and traffic flow.
“The path is worn, you don’t have to do a count to see if there is any pedestrian traffic through there,” she said. “It’s worn out. That is a very, very dangerous situation.”
Planning Board Chair Gene Hafer said the sidewalk issue is within the town of West Jefferson’s jurisdiction, and that those problems had been discussed.
Stumb said during studies by the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson for the county’s CTP in 2010, numerous sidewalk proposals were discussed.
According to the CTP, proposed sidewalk improvements included U.S. 221 Business from Hice Avenue to Buck Mountain Road, U.S. 221 Business from N.C. 194 to Mount Jefferson Road and U.S. 221 Business from Buck Mountain Road to N.C. 194.
Also discussed in the Jefferson pedestrian plan was a multi-use path along U.S. 221 Business from its intersection with U.S. 221 in Jefferson, to the intersection with N.C. 194 in West Jefferson.
The next meeting of the Planning Board will take place on Thursday, May 1 and will further discuss employment and transportation.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.