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Wednesday, 25 April 2007 00:00

West Waynesville roadwork needs to be designed well

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Imagine how this scenario could work, if it was a reality: a state Department of Transportation in lockstep with the wishes of the state’s citizenry, an organization that went to great lengths to work with towns, counties and other entities to try to help reduce congestion by managing traffic with an eye toward quality of life instead of simply moving more cars.

 

Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it works in the real world, and there are plenty of examples that would be easy to cite. Instead, it seems that whenever a group or a local government tries to think progressively about the roads in their community, they are immediately at odds with state road planners.

In Waynesville, town officials have been trying for years to convince the DOT to move improvements to Main Street in the west Waynesville area up on the priority list. In fact, convincing the state to help formulate a plan for South Main Street has been the town’s top priority for 12 years. So far it hasn’t worked.

Now, however, as a new Super Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other new development are in the planning stages, the stakes are extremely high. Of course the state is requiring developers to conduct a traffic study and to pay for most of the roadwork in the immediate area, but that’s not enough.

We believe state planners should work with town officials and hold a series of meetings with citizens in the affected areas to determine how best to manage the huge increase in traffic that is about to come to the neighborhoods and small streets around this development. Town leaders have their own ideas about access management in West Waynesville, and DOT engineers surely have enough experience to offer some great suggestions. What no one wants, though, is simply a great big four- or five-lane road with multiple traffic lights, middle turning lanes and a couple of dozen entrances right off South Main Street as more and more businesses open up.

No, that kind of road just won’t do. As plans for this new shopping center have taken shape, many in and around Waynesville have tried to make it clear that there is just one chance to get it right. That includes managing traffic in the affected area. A detailed, thorough analysis of how that whole part of Waynesville will be affected needs to be completed now, along with a wide variety of options for managing that increased traffic.

Town officials say they are a bit reluctant to press forward with developing detailed plans for the area unless it is done in conjunction with DOT. In other communities, such planning has proven to be a waste of time and money as state road engineers have simply moved on to build the roads they thought were necessary.

Waynesville, perhaps more than most towns, has spent a lot of time, money and citizen effort to foster a sense of place. Its land-use plan took about three years to develop, and its downtown has been a work in progress for more than two decades.

Its leaders and many citizens of the town and Haywood County fought a long battle nearly a decade ago to convince DOT to turn Old Asheville Highway into something special. They argued for bike lanes, sidewalks, landscaped medians and the now-popular roundabout. That fight was only partially successful, but the effort changed the look of the road.

DOT engineer Jonathan Woodard has sounded an encouraging note by admitting that West Waynesville’s growth will provide a great opportunity for access management, which means managing traffic without simply adding more lanes to the main arteries.

Now’s the time to get to work. In this case, DOT needs to make an extra effort to satisfy the town’s desires by working to make sure this coming growth on the west end of Waynesville becomes an asset and not a headache.

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