Jackson County commissioners have been asked to select their Top Six road priorities to pass along to the state Department of Transportation — a decision that could help decide whether a controversial, five-mile bypass around Sylva is ever built.
The commissioners’ input will help shape an even bigger to-do list: a Top 25 for the entire 10-county region of DOT’s Division 14. The projects on that list, in turn, eventually must vie for funding statewide.
The list compiled by the county’s board of commissioners is likely to figure heavily in whether the bypass (once dubbed the Southern Loop, now called a “connector” by the transportation department) moves forward. The bypass would be a new major highway bisecting Jackson County, with the intention of diverting traffic from N.C. 107.
Jackson County’s planning board recently compiled their Top Six projects. That recommendation was done to help guide commissioners in making their own selection.
All that sounds very tentative and preliminary. But, in fact, a 10-year work program compiled last year by the transportation department shows right-of-way acquisition on the bypass is scheduled for fiscal year 2016; construction would start in fiscal year 2018. The existence of actual startup dates for the project (if approved) are likely to underscore opponents’ beliefs that the transportation department has “fast-tracked” the new highway over widespread public wishes to the contrary.
Funding already has been secured, too, for an environmental study of the proposed bypass’ path, Julia Merchant, transportation department spokeswoman, confirmed last week.
“(But) the environmental planning has been placed on hold as the department waits to see the outcomes of the feasibility study to improve N.C. 107 and receive the county’s list of transportation priorities to determine how the county would like to move forward,” Merchant wrote in an email to The Smoky Mountain News.
Commissioners are expected to work on the list for the next couple of months. The regional ranking must be completed by summer, said Ryan Sherby, who oversees transportation for the state agency Southwestern Development Commission.
“The county commissioners represent the citizens of this county,” said Susan Leveille, a member of the Smart Roads Alliance, an activist group in Jackson County. “It matters a lot that they make decisions based on what the citizens want and what is in the best interest of the citizens in the future.”
Leveille questioned the potential cost of a bypass.
“It is our hope that (commissioners) will put other DOT projects ahead of this bypass that the citizen and experts say will not cure the ills on N.C. 107, and will cost so much in money and natural resources,” Leveille said.
Jackson County planning board Top Six highway recommendations:
• Redesign N.C. 107 in Sylva to improve traffic flow
• Add a west bound on-ramp at exit 85 on U.S. 74
• Improve Cashiers crossroads intersection, possibly with a roundabout
• Redesign U.S. 23 business from town to the hospital
• Install new interchange at U.S. 441 and N.C. 116
• Build N.C. 107 connector (Southern Loop), specifically on the existing Cane Creek/Blanton Branch corridor
Source: Southwestern Development Commission