The process has been going on since August, when the ADC offered its services following a standing-room-only town meeting Aug. 6 in which residents expressed overwhelming opposition to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s preliminary plans for 107.
Since then, the ADC has assembled a team of volunteer planners and traffic engineers to examine the issue and held multiple meetings with various stakeholders to gather input and vet ideas. During a Jan. 14 forum, members of the public shared their concerns and suggestions about the plan, which the ADC then studied in order to develop potential solutions. On Feb. 18, the group met with utilities involved with the project to get their input and held a joint meeting March 21 with the Town of Sylva.
Following receipt of DOT’s responses to the ADC’s suggestions based on the Jan. 14 meeting, Joyell was candid that a silver bullet may well be elusive. The ideas residents put forth to lessen the extensive impact the road project is expected to have on local businesses had by and large already been examined by the DOT and found unworkable. However, Joyell said the March 21 meeting yielded some potential for areas to explore.
“Coming out of last week’s meeting, our team has a clear idea of what concepts are worth further investigation and which ones have been adequately addressed,” he said March 26. “We’ll use the month between this meeting and our next community meeting April 17 to finalize our recommendations. We will make some landscaping/beautification recommendations, as well.”
According to draft minutes from the town, Joyell presented eight suggestions that he’d received from public input, as well as information on the feasibility of each. Joyell said that the ADC would look into some of the areas of concern further to see if they could be used to lessen the project’s impact — those locations included the intersections with N.C. 107 and Jim Sellers Road, Cope Creek Road and Chipper Curve Road/Municipal Drive — but consultation with the DOT had disqualified the remaining suggestions as potential solutions.
Perhaps the most widely discussed suggestions were a proposal to make N.C. 107 one-way and build a parallel road going the opposite way, and alternative designs to the U.S. 23/N.C. 107 intersection — both an overpass and a roundabout had been suggested for the location.
Joyell told the town board that topography along N.C. 107 would make the parallel road concept impossible due to the cost of acquiring land and moving earth. It would be administratively difficult as well, requiring an entirely new environmental assessment for the project and a renewed application for funding, with the town bearing a much higher portion of the cost than for the plan as proposed. Those steps could push the redesign an additional five to seven years down the road.
DOT said building an overpass at 23/107 would also require a large amount of land acquisition, and therefore more funding, and that a roundabout would not carry the necessary traffic volume.
The timeline for the road project has been moved back considerably since its inception, due to the extensive right-of-way planning that will be required. When the project was announced in 2017, right-of-way acquisition was set to begin in 2019 with construction slated for 2021 to 2023. The current plan is for right-of-way to begin in 2020 and construction in December 2022.
The road project has proven highly controversial due to the high impact it’s expected to have on local businesses. According to 25 percent plans released last year, 54 businesses, one nonprofit and five residences would need to be relocated. Those plans are preliminary, however. Updated plans that include utilities and are considered 65 percent complete are expected in June.