BOONE — North Carolina Department of Transportation officials sent a message to Boone and Watauga County officials when presenting revised concepts for the planned N.C. 105 renovations: the fate of the multi-million-dollar project is now in your hands.
The message came during a meeting of local officials at the Watauga County Administration Building on March 14, where NCDOT engineers Ramie Shaw and Mike Pettyjohn went over the new changes to certain areas of the project.
The changes were a result of feedback from business and property owners along the N.C. 105 stretch slated to be affected by the project, including widening of the road to include U-turn bulb-outs, enhanced bike lanes, enhanced sidewalks and a median that would limit left turns.
Currently, the two-mile road is five lanes with a center turn lane going from the intersection with Blowing Rock Road to N.C. 105 Bypass.
The planned medians, which the Boone Town Council asked NCDOT to reconsider, have to remain if the $10.52 million project, estimated last in October 2018, is going to happen, Shaw and Pettyjohn stressed.
“What we need from both boards at your next meetings, if possible, is a resolution saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” said Cullie Tarleton, NCDOT Board of Transportation member. “The median comes out, it’s no longer a (NCDOT) project.”
“This project would move to the back of the line” if the votes were against the revised ideas, Tarleton told the local officials.
Pettyjohn explained that a five-lane road has too many conflict points and potential for accidents for NCDOT to consider.
The superstreet idea was introduced in September 2018 to a largely negative reaction. On March 7, lobbyist Chris Wall of The Policy Group in Raleigh told the Boone Town Council there is opposition against the superstreet model across the state.
One of the main arguments against the plan was that a median would limit traffic for businesses.
Pettyjohn said that NCDOT superstreet engineers have studied the effects of medians on businesses, saying that for local specialty businesses, medians don’t hinder inflow.
The medians can be fully concrete or grass, Pettyjohn said, and said NCDOT will work with Boone on whatever option they prefer.
Other presented changes to the original superstreet idea include incorporating left-hand turns from the N.C. 105 Bypass onto N.C. 105, making U-turn bulb-outs near Ingles smaller to accommodate cars only, giving the local officials options at the Highland Avenue intersection and creating a car-only U-turn for northbound traffic at the Courtyard by Marriott property before the big intersection with Blowing Rock Road.
The southbound-to-northbound U-turn bulb-out is still planned for the wooded area across from Ezzie-Lou Home and Living store. Both bulb-outs in the area would be large enough for tractor trailers.
A full map of the project with the changes was not presented, with Shaw saying one will be produced if both councils approve the new concepts. Shaw later added that impact analysis would be done at a later date.
Previously under the proposal, the N.C. 105 Bypass intersection did not have a left-turn option from traffic on the bypass wanting to go northbound. The original superstreet concept would have traffic turning left onto the southbound lane, then making a U-turn into the northbound lane.
The U-turn bulb-outs near Ingles were reduced in size from accommodating tractor-trailers to accommodating cars, reducing property infringement.
Plans from N.C. 105 near Highland Avenue have changed the northbound-to-southbound U-turn bulb-out. Previously planned for the location of Casa Rustica, local leaders now have two options for the bulb-out. The first was having the bulb-out eliminate the Highland Avenue intersection. The second would spare the intersection and have the bulb-out at the strip mall at the intersection. Both plans would result in the removal of the strip mall.
Shaw said the NCDOT is fine with either concept and said it’s up to the local governments to decide.
When asked about a timeline, Pettyjohn said they need decisions on the proposed changes “immediately” to begin right-of-way property acquisition and meet the 2021 start date for the project. Pettyjohn said the project would take around three years to complete.
“We’re already six months behind,” Pettyjohn said of the project.
Boone Town Manager John Ward said the public can comment on the proposals at the council’s March 19 and 21 meetings, which each begin at 6 p.m. The Watauga County Commissioners next meet at 5:30 p.m. on March 19.