With the resurfacing of the roadway scheduled for this summer, the N.C. Department of Transportation proposed a plan last month to modify South Jefferson Avenue by creating a three-lane road from the existing four-lane road. The center lane would be used by motorists for turning left or right off the avenue.
The road modification issue was one of several topics addressed by the West Jefferson Aldermen during their regular monthly meeting Monday night at city hall.
While the aldermen took no action on the proposal, it will be discussed at future board meetings – perhaps in March or later. West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price did not offer a timetable as to when the issue will be addressed again by the board.
However, during the departmental reports portion of the monthly meeting, West Jefferson Maintenance Director Eric Miller said town residents who agreed with the aldermen’s decision to not support a proposal by DOT to create reverse angle parking in downtown hoped the aldermen would also withhold their endorsement of the proposed Jefferson Avenue modifications.
“That’s the word on the street,” said Miller.
The idea for this new roadway – called a “road diet” by DOT – originated from two sources, said DOT Division Traffic Engineer Dean Ledbetter. “First,” he said, “when the Town of West Jefferson was putting together their pedestrian plan, there were some general conversations about installing pedestrian refuge islands to help pedestrians safely cross the roadway. Second, I have begun reviewing all proposed resurfacing projects to look for possible traffic improvements.”
Price said DOT has the authority to modify Jefferson Avenue without the consent of the town, but that DOT normally wants to work with a municipality.
“While we do have ultimate responsibility for the roadway,” Ledbetter said, “we certainly want to respect the wishes of local citizens as expressed through their elected officials. In this case, the Department of Transportation is not trying to talk the town into making a change. We simply want the town to be aware of the option and the likely positive and negative consequences of making this change.”
Price and Mayor Dale Baldwin have been talking to business owners and residents along the four-lane to gauge their opinions on the proposal.
In an attempt to gain an understanding of how the proposed changes might impact West Jefferson, Price said he is investigating how two other towns in the region, Dobson and Marion, are making out with similar modifications to their thoroughfares.
An outside engineering firm is currently working on the design of West Jefferson’s pedestrian bumpouts using a streetscape plan developed several years ago, said Price.
He added, the construction of the concrete bumpouts will begin at the intersection at Jefferson Avenue and Main Street – probably by June. This, said Price, should demonstrate how the concrete bumpouts will work before the other intersections are completed.
Ledbetter also said that DOT will investigate similar roadway modifications on North Jefferson Avenue/U.S. 221 Business between Jefferson and West Jefferson.
“I believe that the section from West Jefferson to Jefferson is a great candidate for a road diet as well,” said Ledbetter. “When it is scheduled for resurfacing, we will certainly be talking with the towns about it. In the meantime, we expect to use this treatment at many locations across our division. It has been a successful treatment across the state and across the country. A section of East Boulevard in Charlotte was recently converted and is getting much positive comment online.”
Miller informed the board his maintenance crew has begun installing the new touch read water meters, and the first one installed detected a leak at that site.
Installing these meters, Miller said, will not only improve and shorten the reading process by maintenance crew but also help residents and the town find leaks more quickly, saving water for the town and money for its residents.
The board of aldermen approved continuance of the lease for the Ashe County Farmers Market on the Backstreet for another year, and agreed to consider the request for a temporary storage facility to be placed on skids behind the shelter during the season. Alderman Brett Summey - serving as mayor pro tem for Mayor Dale Baldwin who was not at the meeting due to illness - asked for a schematic to see what the proposed storage facility would look like before voting on the issue.
Market Manager John Smyre introduced Linda Sloan as the new president of the farmers market. They noted that the market is set to open April 14, for Saturday activity. Wednesday markets are added in the summer, and holiday markets are featured in the fall. About 90 vendors are signed up, with an average of 50 showing each Saturday.
Memorial Day Weekend race
Jared Yelton received approval from the board for the second annual Memorial Day Weekend 5k/10k Race in West Jefferson.
Yelton said last year’s inaugural event attracted about 200 runners, 70 percent of them from outside Ashe County. There were great comments, he said, with many who had never been here planning to return with their families.
Last year’s event raised about $4,000 for Ashe Free Medical Clinic, Yelton said, which he said they told him was more like $12,000 considering how they were able to use the funds.
“That brought a lot of excitement to downtown,” said Alderman Stephen Shoemaker. “And what you all are doing for the free clinic is a great thing.”
The aldermen approved a road closure of Ashe Street around the old train depot during the morning to about noon on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for the run.
Following an intensive discussion of Christmas lighting in downtown West Jefferson and the Backstreet Park, the board directed Price to investigate costs and ideas for discussion during budget deliberations.
Price said he and Miller had been looking at sites for more lights, and offered the idea of lighted wreaths – either real or artificial – for decorating the new street lamps.
Alderman Summey said people commented on how they miss the overhead lights, and Price said these can be placed at either end of Jefferson Avenue downtown.
“Being a Christmas tree town, I like the live wreaths,” said Shoemaker. “Like Alderman Summey, I think we need lots of lights.”
Alderman Calvin Green said he, too, likes the idea of live greenery, but it does tend to dry out quickly. But more lights are definitely needed, he said.
“I’m not a Facebook person, but my wife is, and she showed me it was unbelievable the people throwing off on West Jefferson about lights,” Green said. They wanted to see more, he added, so maybe the town could put lights on each pole, wrapping them with lighted greenery or hanging wreaths with lights.
Town park renovations
In a choice between upgrading the restrooms at West Jefferson Municipal Park and paving the walking trail, the aldermen voted to have the town manager determine what can be done within the budget and move forward.
Green said if the money is there, it should be used to improve the park because the park is for the citizens. He added that he would like to see lighting so people could use the walking trail in the evening as they do in Jefferson.
Alderman Lester Mullis suggested improvements to the restrooms first, and then plan to install lighting as the walking trail is paved so it would only have to be torn up one time. Also, the slide needs attention, Mullis said, as it is one of the most used aspects of the park.
Eric Miller suggested the town consider installing security cameras in the park to try and cut down on vandalism.