Town bows to transportation department’s superior knowledgeWritten by Quintin Ellison
Town of Sylva leaders have sent a letter to the state Department of Transportation endorsing what supporters would like called a connector — and detractors a bypass — around N.C. 107.
The letter was approved by unanimous vote last week.
“We envision (N.C. 107) to be more of a ‘city street’ rather than a major thoroughfare,” Stacy Knotts, a Sylva town commissioner, wrote in explanation of the vote (an ice storm prevented The Smoky Mountain News from attending this particular meeting). “We are hoping to improve safety and traffic congestion without widening the road — as this would impact many businesses.”
Supporters agree a connector would ease traffic on N.C. 107; detractors say a bypass would do nothing of the sort.
Potential redesigns of N.C. 107 were recently unveiled at a public information session in Sylva that drew a crowd of 200. The state highway is Sylva’s major traffic corridor, taking in the primary portion of the county experiencing business growth. The targeted stretch extends from U.S. 23 Business in Sylva to Western Carolina University.
The transportation department discussed six concepts. Three would include building what was once dubbed the Southern Loop, since renamed the “N.C. 107 connector” by the transportation department … or, in the parlance of Smart Roads, a community activist group in Jackson County opposing the plans, “The Bypass.”
By whatever name, the connector/bypass/Southern Loop would cut a major five-mile-long road through people’s homes, over farmland and streams and forests.
Susan Leveille, a member of Smart Roads, said when the county put together its comprehensive transportation plan, “the N.C. DOT says, ‘the problem on 107 is not traffic volume, the problem is land use.’ As in, how the land along the 107 corridor is allowed to be used by the town and county.”
The answer, Leveille said, is not a connector. Nor massive “improvements” to N.C. 107 to fix debatable traffic issues along the highway. The issue, in her book, is the need for town leaders to “make some hard choices instead of doing what is easy” and pass some development regulations.
Leveille suggested reducing curb cuts — a break in a curb allowing access from the roadway — and perhaps moving toward what Waynesville has done on Russ Avenue: forcing newly built businesses to front the roadway and put parking behind buildings.
“These are not the only two choices,” Leveille said of the either/or “improve N.C. 107” or build a connector/bypass/Southern Loop.
“Sylva should be fighting this tooth and nail,” longtime Jackson County business owner Leveille said. “This could bypass the entire economic center of Sylva.”
In other N.C. 107 matters, former N.C. Department of Transportation employee Jamie Wilson spoke to Jackson County commissioners this week about how the 14th Division does business in this region. He said department leaders have not been open about traffic counts on N.C. 107. Wilson claimed the number of vehicles using the road is actually showing decreases.
Wilson also questioned funding decisions and how road projects are prioritized in the 10-county 14th Division.
Sylva to transportation department:
In response to the N.C. 107 Improvements Feasibility Study presented at the Nov. 9th Citizen’s Information Workshop, the Sylva Board of Commissioners submit the following comments.
The terrain in Jackson County is mountains, ridges, narrow valleys and streams. This terrain is extremely important in the development of Sylva and Jackson County. N.C. 107 in Sylva runs through a narrow valley between two ridges. Between Sylva and Cullowhee the highway is either sandwiched between ridges, or between a ridge and the river. With this in mind, we would like for N.C. 107 to remain a four (4) lane city street with little or no increase in width. Increasing N.C. 107 to six (6) or seven (7) lanes would have a negative impact to business and the growth of Sylva. We have faith in N.C. DOT’s ability to forecast traffic and determine future needs or highway requirements. Therefore, if the current or improved four-lane highway will not carry the forecasted traffic, we would endorse the connector concept, in conjunction with the improvements to N.C. 107.
We would also recommend that N.C. DOT consider increasing the width of the bridge across Scotts Creek at Jackson Paper to four lanes.
Your consideration for our concerns and for the growth of Sylva is greatly appreciated.