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Wednesday, 15 April 2009 16:22

Waynesville could finally see long-awaited make-over of South Main Street

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Waynesville’s South Main Street — the two-lane thoroughfare that is the major artery between downtown and the new Super Wal-Mart — could be increased to four lanes and even have roundabouts, according to preliminary redesign options recently laid out by the Department of Transportation.

Town officials have been hounding DOT for more than a decade to redesign the corridor, which also serves as one of the gateways to Waynesville.

The DOT made forays into a feasibility study for the road in 2002, but the plan went nowhere and was shelved.

South Main Street is now back on the drawing board. Town leaders are hopeful the DOT will come up with a redesign that fits in with the town’s land use plan and makes South Main Street more pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing.

South Main Street has long been the neglected end of town. The need to redesign the dated corridor has grown more urgent since the arrival of Super Wal-Mart in 2008. The two-lane road is no longer able to handle the amount of traffic that has been added as a result of the megastore and buildings that have sprung up around it. According to DOT, 18,400 vehicles per day are coming and going in the vicinity of Super Wal-Mart.

“We needed something addressed,” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “It’s not going to go away — it’s an issue and it’s a problem.”

DOT has laid out several redesign options to study. One calls for widening the thoroughfare to four lanes from Hyatt Creek Road, just next to the Super Wal-Mart, all the way to U.S. 276 right at the edge of downtown. A raised median would be placed in the middle.

Another option calls for widening the road to four lanes about half way to downtown — near the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa, i.e. country club — then to three the rest of the way. Roundabouts could be included in the three-lane section.

A third option would maintain the road as a two-lane corridor and implement intersection improvements such as roundabouts.

The options differ from those offered up in the 2002 study, before the town’s land use plan was in place. That study recommended a four-lane divided road with extra turn lanes in some places at a cost of $27 million. The old study estimated that 30 businesses and a dozen residential homes would be displaced by the redesign.

Starting early last year, town officials pressed DOT to revisit the feasibility study so it incorporated the town’s land use plan. The town opposes major widening of the road all the way into downtown or through residential stretches, Brown said.

In the commercial area, the town does not want a five-lane road, Brown said, preferring a four-lane road with a landscaped median in lieu of a middle turn lane.

In addition, the town wants eight-foot wide sidewalks on either side of South Main Street to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian traffic and street trees lining the corridor.

“Sidewalks are necessary for the safety issue — people are going to walk to these facilities,” Brown said, referring to the new Super Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and other businesses that have cropped up around them. Currently, the sidewalks lining South Main Street are patchy at best, and at points, disappear completely, leaving pedestrians dangerously close to oncoming traffic.

The initial plan didn’t include sidewalks — in fact, the new plan likely wouldn’t either if the town didn’t make it a priority to push for them.

“The DOT is very focused on automobile transportation, and they talk about being multi-modal, but I’ve seen them be pretty reluctant to include things like bike lanes and sidewalks because its an extra expense,” said town planner Paul Benson. “If the town wants to see amenities like that, we’ve got to get involved.”

By all indications, that’s just what Waynesville officials have done. Brown said he’s called the DOT every two months for the past year to check on the status of the study.

In an telephone conference with DOT designers in January, the town voiced concern over whether an overly wide road would be compatible with the town’s design guidelines and vision for the corridor. Town officials reiterated their wishes for sidewalks and street trees.

Brown said the regional DOT office has been very willing to work with the town and has helped them communicate their wishes to the state office.

“They completely understand the town’s vision and were very supportive of my comments,” Brown said of the regional Division 14 office.

DOT Feasibility Studies Unit Head Derrick Lewis cautions that the new designs being studied could change depending on the input of local leaders.

“We’ve changed our process to actively solicit government input at multiple points within the process,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to get it closer to what everybody wants, and we actually get a better product in the long run.”

Lewis said the DOT will also seek public input early in the process, before the final designs are laid down. Members of the public will be invited to share their ideas and concerns at a workshop this summer.

Town officials promise to be vigilant in making sure the final product reflects the town’s vision.

“If we don’t like what we see, we’ll lobby for changes,” said Benson.

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