BOONE — After nearly three hours going over the latest N.C. 105 superstreet design, the Boone Town Council decided on Tuesday, April 23, to put the item on the agenda for potential approval at its May 7 meeting.
The morning meeting drew an overflow crowd to the Boone Council chambers. A total of 18 citizens, not including N.C. Department of Transportation representatives, spoke on the project.
NCDOT stressed the need for a decision in the very near future on the $10.52 million project.
“If we don’t get a decision fairly soon, it’ll be my recommendation that we move this project aside and move on,” NCDOT Board of Transportation Member Cullie Tarleton said.
The N.C. 105 superstreet project would install a median and reduce left turns along the road in Boone town limits, aiming to reduce what NCDOT has called an unacceptably high rate of collisions. The superstreet concept has been a hot topic since the original plan was introduced in September. The original plan was met with a mostly-negative reaction and after public input, the NCDOT made changes. The redeveloped plan was unveiled on March 14 to town and Watauga County officials.
The Watauga County Commissioners approved the redesign at their March 19 meeting, meaning Boone Town Council is the last hurdle to clear.
Going into May 7, Councilman Sam Furgiuele and Councilwoman Lynne Mason implored citizens to send in their comments.
“We want to make the right decision and we’ll make that pretty quickly,” Mayor Rennie Brantz said.
The project is still slated to take “three to four” years to complete once approved, according to NCDOT Engineer Ramie Shaw. The superstreet plan includes plans for the N.C. 105 and Blowing Rock Road intersection. Some of the specifics for the intersection included aligning all the roads together, meaning vehicles won’t have to move slightly to the right when going through as they currently have to.
A U-turn bulb-out in front of Realty Row for three-axle trucks that want to travel southbound is included, as well as the median continuing all the way to that bulb-out. The medians can include grass and planters, which can be coordinated at a later date, NCDOT added.
Also part of the N.C. 105 and Blowing Rock Road plans was a dedicated bus stop in front of the Appalachian State University Panhellenic Hall so the bus could get out of traffic.
Shaw noted that the 105 superstreet plans, going from the Blowing Rock Road and N.C. 105 intersection to N.C. 105 Bypass, have not been changed since the March 14 meeting.
On the question raised by many about the potential of connecting Poplar Grove South directly with the N.C. 105 and N.C. 105 Bypass intersection, making it a four-way stop, NCDOT Divisional Engineer Mike Pettyjohn said they have looked into that idea multiple times and the significant elevation grade is a problem.
Any multi-use paths outside of the road, which many in attendance expressed a desire for, would come with a 70/30 cost share, Pettyjohn said, with the town having to pay for 30 percent of it. Sidewalks that are connected directly to the road would be 100 percent covered by NCDOT, Town Manager John Ward said.
Pettyjohn also said there would not be enough room for multi-use paths on both sides of N.C. 105 with Ward adding that after discussions with AppalCART, the paths would likely be on the north side of the road. AppalCART Transportation Director Craig Hughes said there’s no anticipated addition of bus stops along N.C. 105.
On the question of the speed limit, Shaw said that speed limits would remain at 35 mph.
On construction easements, Shaw said that they would be needed to build the facilities, but they would revert back to the property owners afterward. Pettyjohn added that planned easements can be reduced to minimize impacts in future designs.
The planned bulb-outs and some right-of-way acquisitions would result in retaining walls, on which Pettyjohn said the town of Boone would have design input.
The medians, which NCDOT said have to remain, will reduce angle and t-bone vehicle accidents, according to Pettyjohn, noting that those wrecks usually cause bodily injury.
With the left-turn lights only impacting one side of the road, Hagwood said the design will move traffic quicker than the present design. Pettyjohn said NCDOT would coordinate traffic signals so vehicles won’t stop as much along N.C. 105 in Boone.
The public speaks
Many who spoke were in favor of the plan.
“105 needs to be improved in some manner; it has to be,” said Rob Holton, who owns property along N.C. 105.
“This road is very needed,” former Watauga County Commissioner Jimmy Hodges said.
Jennifer Westerman, who lives on Poplar Grove Road South, said the area, including Ambling Way, is one of the most dangerous in town and she is “wholeheartedly” in favor of the project.
“We have 1,000 people at Cottages who are mostly texting while driving and turning left across five lanes,” Westerman said.
Opinions on the effects to N.C. 105 businesses were contrasting, despite NCDOT’s assertion that it wouldn’t be a negative.
“People are going to avoid this road at all costs for the next five years,” Recess Skate and Snow shop owner J.P. Pardy said. “I wouldn’t want to be living back between (N.C.) 105 and ASU for those five years.”
Pardy said that he does not believe Recess would survive during the construction period.
Ward shared an email from the Pedroni family, who owns Casa Rustica along N.C. 105 and couldn’t attend the meeting. Ward said the Pedronis were against the plan “due to the potential loss of business and environmental impacts.”
However, the NCDOT and some citizens thought businesses would be fine.
“It will ultimately benefit businesses and the town at large,” Chris Laine said. “I don’t see business evaporating along 105.”
Tarleton, who spoke last, thanked the residents for the comments, saying they’ll take all of them into consideration.
“If this project goes forward … if we can determine there are other changes to accommodate other concerns, we would be more than happy to consider those changes,” Tarleton said.
The May meetings of the Boone Town Council are scheduled to take place Tuesday, May 7, and Thursday, May 9. The change from the third week of May, when the meetings would normally take place, is due to scheduling conflicts, according to Ward.