BOONE — Following hours of discussion, the Boone Town Council, in a 3-2 vote, gave the N.C. Department of Transportation a “no” on the proposed N.C. 105 superstreet project on Tuesday, May 7.
Council members Sam Furgiuele, Marshall Ashcraft and Mayor Pro-Tem Loretta Clawson voted in favor of opposing the project, while Connie Ulmer and Lynne Mason were against the motion.
The vote likely brings to a close the controversy surrounding the proposed N.C. 105 superstreet project, which would have implemented a center median with designed left turns, u-turn bulbouts for trucks and widened roads to include sidewalks, which opponents said would have threatened numerous businesses along the roughly two-mile stretch of road from the intersection of Blowing Rock Road to N.C. 105 Bypass at the edge of town limits.
Speaking the day after, NCDOT Board of Transportation member and Blowing Rock resident Cullie Tarleton said he was disappointed, but respected the decision by the council.
“We’ll lay this aside and move on,” Tarleton said. “We think it’s a project that’s needed. We think it’s a safety issue.”
Before the vote, multiple public speakers implored the council to turn down the project, saying the three to four years of the construction process would affect their businesses and quality of life.
Resident Lynn White said the uniqueness of small-time America is why she and her late husband moved to Boone over 50 years ago and felt the superstreet would destroy that charm.
Barbara Julien didn’t like the potential disruption time and added travel miles from her home off N.C. 105, saying she wished the NCDOT would use smaller remedies before going to a big one.
Sandra Byrum of Troy’s Diner had night manager Emily Haas speak for her. Haas noted the potential loss of businesses, the tax revenue they bring in as well as the jobs for locals.
Rick Pedroni at Casa Rustica noted that since this project was introduced, he has been continuously asked if his restaurant will close as a result of the superstreet, noting that it’s taken a toll on him and his family.
“The NCDOT forgets about feelings,” Pedroni said. “Communities are built on feelings.”
“I truly feel the solution is not looking an ultimatum in the face and bowing down to it; it might be to say ‘it’s not our time,’” Pedroni added.
Time was of the essence for the project to move forward if approved. NCDOT representatives, including Tarleton, said at a April 23 public forum with Boone Town Council that if a decision was not made on the project as soon as possible, it might be 10-15 years before the department revisits N.C. 105 in Boone.
Furgiuele spoke at length about his reasons for opposing the plan, citing problems with the U.S. 421 widening, stormwater drainage, safety, what he said was NCDOT’s reluctance to share information on the project, among other items.
“If they’re not doing anything for the rest of the decade, then so be it,” Furgiuele said. “I’d rather have what we have rather than what they’re proposing.”
Furgiuele brought up the U.S. 421 widening project and that Boone ended up spending $2.8 million on a roughly one-mile stretch of road to beautify it, noting that the town doesn’t have discretionary funds and would be on the hook somehow.
If the superstreet was approved, “somebody’s raising taxes, whether it’s this council or the next one,” Furgiuele declared.
“I feel like there’s a gun being held to our heads,” Furgiuele said. “If this project is so good, why threaten us?”
Tarleton rejected any notion that NCDOT was not forthcoming with information on the N.C. 105 superstreet, saying that NCDOT “bent over backwards” for the town.
“We had two public hearings and heard some good comments,” Tarleton said. “The revised plan we had given them in my opinion was the best alternative plan.”
Clawson said she was leaning toward accepting the project going into the meeting, but felt it wasn’t the right project for Boone. Ashcraft also said he came into the meeting leaning on supporting the project, but didn’t like how little NCDOT gave the council about project specifics, including potential future town costs for upkeep.
Mason said she was “very conflicted” on the issue and focused on N.C. 105 being unsafe and deaths from traffic accidents on the road.
“I’m afraid of not doing something now,” Mason said.
Ulmer said she did some research and saw that there’s been over a dozen efforts over the years to do something about N.C. 105 with no real action.
“I don’t trust NCDOT, but we need to do something,” Ulmer said. “You’ve got a big street in a little town and that big street isn’t going to disappear.”
Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jackson attended the Boone Town Council meeting for the duration of the superstreet discussion and said the day after that the decision was all he had been talking about to chamber members.
“I appreciate the fact that both the businesses and residents took the time to flesh this out,” Jackson said. “I think ultimately, everyone agrees that something needs to be done to help ... but there was certainly a consensus that was not the answer.”
“No one feels (N.C.) 105 is perfect,” Jackson added. “Without hearing a better presentation, I don’t think a community should rush into something that we’ll live with for 40 years.”
In his conversations with chamber members, Jackson said he had heard different points of view, including business owners along N.C. 105 who said it might have been a good thing in the long term.
Jackson agreed with Ulmer’s point that N.C. 105 improvements need to be kept on the front burner.
“I do feel there needs to be a broader conversation community wise,” Jackson said. “The time is right for that. If we wait two years, we lose the momentum.”
The NCDOT project was originally presented in September 2018 to widespread criticism. After hearing public comments from N.C. 105 business leaders, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, Boone Town Council and Watauga County Commissioners, the NCDOT took the public comments and made revisions to the project, which were unveiled in March. The Watauga County Commissioners unanimously approved the redesign, but the Boone Town Council asked for more input, which it received at the April 23 public forum with NCDOT.
After the project was rejected, a motion put forth by Furgiuele asking NCDOT to lower N.C. 105 speed limits from 35 to 30 mph and consider adding more stoplights and other smaller-scale measures to make the road safer passed unanimously. Tarleton said NCDOT would consider those requests.
Pleading with her fellow council members to do something about N.C. 105, a motion by Mason to come up with a plan with specifics on sidewalks and multi-modal bike and pedestrian ways for the entire town of Boone passed unanimously. The council also discussed a potential bond for multi-modal paths, but no action was taken.