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Needmore Road debate heats up

Dorothy and Steve Poole are among the few who live along a 3.3-mile stretch of Needmore Road the state Department of Transportation wants to widen and pave.

“I agree with the people who want to keep it beautiful,” Dorothy Poole said. “But the road has safety issues.”

Her husband, speaking at an information session held in Franklin last week, told the 30 or so people there that he, his wife and their neighbors simply want the same consideration other parts of the Macon-Swain gravel road received.

Care. Pavement. Safe shoulders. Pullouts, if needed.

Others at the session, sponsored by Western North Carolina Alliance, a regional environmental group headquartered in Asheville, argued the state’s plan is too extensive. The transportation department engineers targeted the most expensive option, they said, because these are men who like building roads. So they failed to adequately study other options.

If built as proposed, the gravel section of Needmore Road would be widened to a minimum of 18 feet, with up to another 14 feet for shoulders.

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What’s at stake

Needmore Road runs through the protected 4,400-acre Needmore Game Lands. A coalition of environmentalists, hunters, local residents and others saved the tract from development some eight years ago after raising $19 million to buy the land from Duke Power.

The transportation department held a public hearing in Swain County on the paving proposal this week. Macon County commissioners have requested a second public hearing be held in their county.

The state has said the project would cost $6.5 million; the Little Tennessee Watershed Association says it understands the cost would be much higher, and is citing $17.5 million as the actual potential cost. Still others have said it would run to $13.1 million.

“I think they are playing a little fast and loose with the language,” Bill McLarney, the biomonitoring director of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association, said of the transportation department’s proposal to go with the most extensive option.

“(It) would be disastrous,” McLarney said.

McLarney and other speakers said they want more study on the possible use of a soil binder, an alternative surfacing method that might reduce erosion without the high impacts of paving.

McLarney added, however, that there hasn’t been enough information provided for anyone to focus on a definitive answer at this juncture.

The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River, a Franklin based organization that works with property owners and others to protect upper Little Tennessee and Hiwasee River valleys, has joined the Little Tennessee Watershed Association’s opposition to extensive work on Needmore Road. The land trust played an instrumental role in helping to protect the Needmore tract.


What should be done?

The transportation department is proposing to pave and widen Needmore Road to two lanes. “Preferred Alternative E” would mean the road would be a minimum of 18-feet wide, and additional work would take place on the road’s shoulders. Completing this would require cutting through acidic rock. Here are other alternatives listed in the transportation department’s environmental assessment of the project:

• Alternative A, do nothing.

• Alternative B, upgrade drainage, replace drainage pipes, do grading improvements. Consider a soil binder/alternative surfacing method, to reduce erosion and dust by methods other than paving.

• Alternative C, pave existing road. Although the existing road generally varies from 14 to 19 feet wide, the maximum pavement width would be no wider than 18 feet.

• Alternative D, upgrade the road to a two-lane paved facility with 9-foot lanes for a minimum roadway width of 18 feet, plus 4- to 7-foot shoulders. When encountering acidic rock, shoulders would be sacrificed to reduce footprint of road.

• Alternative E, upgrade the road to a two-lane paved facility with 9-foot lanes for a minimum roadway width of 18 feet, plus shoulders. This would encroach into acidic rock.


Count it up

The transportation department has pointed to traffic counts and safety issues as the primary reasons for paving Needmore Road. These numbers represent average daily traffic volume over the course of the year with typical traffic conditions.

Needmore Road, just north of Tellico Road intersection

2003: 260

2005: 250

2007: 220

2009: 320

For comparison, traffic counts on Old River Road in Swain County, also a two-lane gravel road used heavily by local residents.

Old River Road, SR 1336

2002: 270

2004: 340

2006: 320

2008: 340

Another two-lane gravel road in the region, the road leading to Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sees slightly lower daily traffic counts, shown here as a daily average in summer months.

2006: 262

2008: 249

2010: 249

Source: Southwestern Development Commission and National Park Service.

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