The N.C. Department of Transportation met with the public to discuss its plans to widen U.S. 221 into a four-lane road, and explain how local residents might be impacted by the project.
Members of the community were encouraged to voice their opinions, questions and concerns during the meeting, which was held at the Ashe County High School on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
“The reason for this public hearing is simply to make you, the public, a part of the development process,” said Jamille Robbins, the N.C. DOT’s public involvement officer who presented the information during the meeting.
According to Robbins, this project will span 16.1 miles from the intersection of U.S. 421 in Deep Gap to U.S. 221 business/N.C. 88 in Jefferson. The new four-lane road will be divided by a grass median between 17.5-36 feet wide. The road will also have eight-foot-wide shoulders (four feet paved and four feet grassed).
This project is estimated to cost $154,710,928 in all. The construction cost for the project is estimated to be $118,400,000, utilities cost is estimated to be $2,313,028, and the cost of right of way acquisition is estimated to be $33,997,900.
Funding for this project will be aided by the federal government, which will pay 80 percent of the project’s total cost. The remaining 20 percent will be paid for by the state government.
Robbins explained during the meeting this project is part of the Strategic Highway Corridor Plan, which is a plan to create a network of free-flowing roads connected all across North Carolina. U.S. 221 will become Corridor 13 under this initiative.
During the meeting, Robbins said the widening will be important to alleviate congestion in the future. According to him, traffic volume will more than double in many locations on U.S. 221 by 2035.
“There is a good chance this area will have serious traffic problems moving forward; we’re looking 20-30 years in the future,” said Robbins.
To alleviate congestion, the new road will incorporate a new “Superstreet Design,” which will attempt to eliminate left-hand turns onto the roadway.
According to Robbins, this design will also reduce travel time, environmental impact, and the design will help improve safety.
Robbins said the majority of traffic accidents are caused by drivers turning left onto a major roadway, which is why companies like UPS and FedEx have eliminated left-hand turns from their drivers’ routs.
In order to make the construction stage for this project more manageable, the DOT has divided the project into five sections.
Sections A and B, which begin at the U.S. 421 intersection and end at Fleetwood, will begin acquiring right of way in summer of 2013, and begin construction in 2015.
Section C will begin at Fleetwood and end at N.C. 194. Right of way acquisition for this section will begin in 2014 and construction will begin in 2017.
Right of way acquisition and construction for Section D will occur in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Section D will span from N.C. 194 to South Jefferson Avenue.
The widening will end at Section E, which runs from South Jefferson Avenue to N.C. 88. No time frame was given for this section because the funds have not yet been provided.
According to Robbins, the main reason why the N.C. DOT isn’t ready to begin today is they need to conduct more surveys to see what impact the road will have on Ashe County’s citizens.
“Anytime the N.C. DOT widens a roadway, we conduct a noise survey to find the noise impact the new road will have on the area,” said Robbins
For this project, two areas have qualified for noise reduction, and a “noise wall” may be erected to buffer noise pollution from the area. The two locations are at the end of South Jefferson Avenue and at N.C. 88.
In order for a noise wall to be built, residential areas must be densely packed and close to the road. All residents in proximity to the noise wall areas will be given a ballot to vote yes or no to erect the noise wall.
The right of way acquisition will begin once the DOT has conducted its final survey, the “Finding No Significant Impact (FONSI)” survey.
Once the FONSI survey is completed, the DOT will begin purchasing right of way access, at least 200 feet for the total width of the road.
The DOT currently estimates 70 residents and 33 businesses will be displaced because of the road’s widening.
Robbins said property owners will have their options and rights fully explained to them by a right of way agent. Displaced property owners will be paid the highest current market value for their property.
Also, the DOT will provide additional assistance in the form of compensation and relocation advice, said Robbins.
Once the project was fully explained to those in attendance, a few members of the community expressed their opinions of the project.
Martha Kincaid was concerned about the existing grade of U.S. 221, saying a few areas are “a bit like a roller coaster,” and “many wrecks have occurred on that stretch.”
Kincaid said she was worried that widening and resurfacing the road wouldn’t effectively prevent traffic accidents unless the road’s grade was also changed.
Robbins responded by saying, “these are things we will take a look at.”
Also, Brad Vest advocated using local contractors for the project, something Robbins said the DOT had considered.
According to Robbins, the public’s comments will be taken into consideration during the development process, but suggestions cannot threaten the roads safety, or other factors like cost and environmental impact.
“We will incorporate your input into our design plans, but we also have to make sure we put the best product on the ground,” said Robbins.
Citizens will be able to submit written comments to the N.C. DOT until Dec. 21. Comments may be mailed to Jamille A. Robbins at 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1598.
Robbins can also be reached by phone at (919) 707-6085 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.