Health and Prosperity
Two of the main arguments in favor of Corridor K construction are safety and economic growth. Road advocates maintain that having an easily traveled corridor into the area will allow larger companies — and their requisite supplies and equipment — to set up shop there. It would also give faster, safer access to health care. Residents must now traverse steep and winding two-lane roads to get to nearby hospitals and doctors’ offices. Ambulances can take up to two hours getting to Asheville’s Mission hospital, since their rescue helicopter can only reach the area in clear weather.
Lives in: Robbinsville – her home is in the road’s path
“I really love where I live, and as much as I love living there, even more than that I want this road built. I know how important it is to receive quick medical care when you need it. We need to have quicker access to health care, which could mean the difference between life and death, so I’m for the road. Is it going to impact me? Yes, it is. But you know what? I’m thinking about my grandchildren and how to make it easier on them in the future.”
The Brain Drain
Many in Graham County are concerned about the brain drain that lack of economic opportunity creates there. Unemployment is high — just above 16 percent in March — and there is no community college within the county. Some road proponents are hopeful that a 4-lane will allow their top young minds to commute to college instead of leaving the county, and that it will entice industry that can provide them jobs after graduation.
Job: Principal at Robbinsville High School
Lives in: Robbinsville
“Our No. 1 export in Graham County is our young people. The young people that we are exporting are the top 10 or 15 percent of our graduating class, every year. Our school is performing miracles with our kids, but they don’t have the ability to come back to Graham County and make a decent living. This road is the first step and this road needs to be built, even if you have to bulldoze my house to start it.”
Deleterious effects on the environment and natural mountainous character are the reasons some opponents list when making their case against the road. The new highway would cut a wide swath through Stecoah, and opponents highlight the changes it would bring to the region’s rugged mountain character. They also point to the road’s potential for environmental damage from leaching from acidic rocks to threats to native species.
Instead, they advocate for improving the existing two-lane road, making it less narrow and curvy, rather than building a brand-new highway.
Job: Chairman of the Tuckasegee Community Alliance, a chapter of the WNC Alliance.
Lives in: Sylva
“The WNC Alliance has long been opposed to the Corridor K proposal because of the effects on rare and endangered species and the Stecoah valley. We believe that growth should be appropriate to the region and should be managed to maintain the world-class natural resources we have here. We want [the North Carolina Department of Transportation] to undertake a more in-depth analysis of upgrading the current right-of-ways.”
Whole Road or No Road
One opposing camp believes the proposed segment of highway would be useless unless the final link of Corridor K — section A, stretching from Robbinsville to Andrews — also gets built. They say a four-lane highway into Robbinsville petering out to a two-lane wouldn’t bring a significant increase in traffic, just a significant expense.
Job: Cherokee County planner
Lives in: Robbinsville
“I think the most important section of this road is the A section. If that’s not completed, I don’t think we’ll have any positive impact from the overall impact of the road. The road will make change and I think that Robbinsville and Graham County need to prepare for that.”
Way too costly
Other challengers to Corridor K cite its high cost — $383 million. $197 million of that would build the tunnel. Corridor K is a part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, and the federally allocated ADHS fund would foot 80 percent of the bill, with a 20 percent match from the state. Detractors say that the $3.46 million per mile is far too much, and that economic benefits won’t offset the costs.
Job: Executive director of WaySouth, a group that promotes sustainable transport in Appalachia
Lives in: Asheville, N.C.
“If we make the generous assumption that North Carolina keeps getting about the same annual amount of federal money for this highway, the earliest it could have enough money to finish this project is in 2028. The bumper stickers that say ‘the money is there, build the road now’ would be more accurate if they said ‘a fifth of the money is there, build the road in 20 years.’ It will take over 75 years for the benefits to equal the cost. That’s a payback period no investor would ever touch, and this road may literally never pay for itself.”