DOT spares part of Walnut Street, for now

A message sent by opponents of the Russ Avenue widening project’s Walnut Street segment appears to have been received loud and clear by state transportation officials.

North Carolina Department of Transportation administrators met with project engineering firm Calix on March 2 to review opinions received during a lengthy and energetic public comment period meant to gauge public opinion on the expansion.

“These inputs have been reviewed, and there have been some changes to the plan,” said DOT Project Manager Wanda Austin. “At this point, we’re looking at some ideas to minimize the impact.”

In addition to public comments given to DOT by email, mail, phone or in person at public meetings, resolutions were also passed by the Waynesville Board of Aldermen and its Historic Preservation Commission prior to the end of the public comment session Jan. 13.

The town’s resolution asked DOT generally to “take as little private property as possible” across the scope of the project, and specifically to conduct “road, storm drainage, gutter and sidewalk improvements to U.S. 276 east of the railroad bridge on Walnut Street within the existing rights of way and that no taking of property be undertaken on improved parcels.”

While changes by Calix and DOT aren’t yet final, there appears to be a consensus in at least one regard. 

“One thing we’re all in agreement on,” Austin said, “was that there will be no bike lanes past Branner Avenue.”

Plans presented to the public by DOT Dec. 6 showed a widening of approximately 17 feet on Walnut Street that would result in the removal of a century-old brick wall and several trees on Walnut Street.

Property owners like Charles McDarris, who owns historic structures at 28 and 52 Walnut Street, were incensed, insisting it would change the character of the neighborhood and diminish the Spread Out Historic District itself, which overlays much of the Walnut Street Area. 

“We always take public input into account,” Austin said. “We meet with local officials, and include all stakeholders.”

Removing the bike lanes would only shave about 5 feet from that 17-foot proposal, thus it’s clear the fight to preserve the historic corridor isn’t over; another public hearing is scheduled for the project sometime this summer, hopefully with updated plans for Walnut Street. 

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