Watauga Democrat
March 16, 2007






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Ed Lewis, public hearing officer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, refers to a map of the U.S. 421 widening project at Tuesday night’s DOT combined public hearing. Photo by Frank Ruggiero


U.S. 421 widening project: DOT paves forum for input
By Frank Ruggiero
ruggiero@wataugademocrat.com


The N.C. Department of Transportation hosted a combined public hearing in Boone Tuesday to gather residents’ input on the U.S. 421 widening project.

The project proposes to widen U.S. 421/King Street from N.C. 194 to U.S. 321/Hardin Street. Ed Lewis, public hearing officer with the NCDOT, spoke at the meeting, held at the Broyhill Inn & Conference Center, and said widening would take place on the south side of the road’s existing alignment.

Widening to the south, he said, “is the more economical alternative” and “the most practical from a design perspective.”

Lewis said, the project, the length of which is approximately 1.2 miles, will also improve East King Street’s intersections with Grove Street, Hardin Street, N.C. 105 Ext., New Market Boulevard/Forest Hills Drive and N.C. 194.

From the N.C. 105 Ext. intersection to N.C. 194, the road will be widened into a six-lane, divided curb and gutter roadway, and a raised concrete median of varying width will be constructed to separate opposite direction travel lanes. Sidewalks on both sides will also be built.

From Hardin Street to N.C. 105 Ext., the road will be widened to four lanes with turning lanes with a 17-and-a-half foot raised median and five-foot sidewalks on both sides. Lewis said this design will separate turning traffic from through traffic.

“You all know how congested that road is through different times of day,” Lewis said.

“Traffic out there is going to increase, by the year 2030, by an extra 10,000 cars.”

Additional lanes will handle that extra traffic, while providing separate turning lanes so drivers won’t be delayed by others ahead of them trying turn left, Lewis said.

“The only places out here you’ll be able to turn left is at these signalized intersections,” he said.

People wanting to turn left from the south side to U.S. 421 South would have to turn right and make a U-turn at an intersection.

Planning and environmental studies have been ongoing, and he said the DOT has completed the first step with the environmental assessment. Once the public involvement period is completed over the next 30 days, the DOT will proceed with the next phase, the finding of no significant impact.

Lewis stressed that public input is important, and said the public hearing would be recorded and transcribed so the minutes and comments could be made available to the public. Lewis said people could also complete and send in comment forms within 30 days. Comments will be addressed at a meeting to take place in about 45 days in Raleigh. “We read every one of them,” he said.

Lewis explained that the project would be constructed under the State-Federal Aid Highway Program. Eighty-percent of the project will be federally funded, while 20 percent will be funded by the state.

Regarding the need for the project, he said King Street is classified in the Federal Highway Functional Classification System as a principal arterial. “Arterials are meant to provide a higher level of mobility,” he said. “However, the development along the project prevents it from adequately providing long, uninterrupted travel that a U.S. Route is intended to provide.”

Because of 421’s numerous through-routes that intersect with King Street, the corridor acts as a funnel to and from Boone, Tennessee’s Tri-Cities and the Triad and Metrolina areas of North Carolina. The average daily traffic on U.S. 421 in Boone ranges from 19,600 to 39,700 vehicles per day, Lewis said. “Imagine what it would look like if we didn’t do any sort of improvements out there,” he said.

The project will also address safety, with Lewis saying that 268 accidents occurred within the project area over the course of three years, the most frequent type being rear-end collisions from frequent stopping and starting.

Construction will require right-of-way acquisition of 100 to 140 feet. Since widening will occur on the south side, Lewis said 63 residences are anticipated to be moved, as well as 25 businesses. Right-of-way acquisition will cost $21,228,000; utilities will cost $717,154; and construction will cost $11,200,000 for a grand total of $33,145,154.

The tentative schedule will see right of way acquisition begin in August 2008, with construction expected to commence in April 2010.

After decisions have been made regarding the final design, Lewis said the proposed right-of-way limits will be staked in the ground, so property owners will be able to see how far into their property the right-of-way will extend.

Property owners will then be approached by DOT right-of-way agents, who will explain the plans and advise people how the project will affect them and inform them of their rights as a property owner. Lewis said if permanent acquisition is required, professionals familiar with real estate values will evaluate or appraise the property. Appraisals and evaluations will then be reviewed for accuracy and the agent will make a written offer.

“The current market value of the property at its highest and best use when appraised will be offered as compensation,” Lewis said.

As for relocations, he said additional assistance in the form of advice and compensation is available. Those affected will be provided with assistance on locations of comparable housing or commercial establishments, as well as moving procedures and moving aid. The state may pay for moving expenses, and additional monetary compensation is available, he said, adding a similar program is available for business owners.

A popular question dealt with road-side business access, and Lewis said, “If you’re a restaurant or some other business that has folks that want to get to you, they will. What we’re looking at here is controlling the access, making sure that the number of cars we carry lasts a long time into the future and we have a safe design out there to limit those rear-end collisions.”

Comment forms are available at Boone Town Hall at 567 W. King St. or at the DOT Office at 1829 Hwy. 194 North. For more information, e-mail elewis@dot.state.nc.us or call 919-715-1593.

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