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Most like plans for Russ Avenue makeover

A proposed redesign of Russ Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare in Waynesville, received strong public support among those who attended a public workshop last week to learn more about the plan.

“I think this has to be done,” said Lyle Coffey, one of several residents who came out to study the large maps on display. “Russ Avenue has to be redone in some way.”

Verona Martin said the free-for-all that defines Russ Avenue makes driving it unpleasant.

“I’m not happy with it all, especially in the morning when it is so congested,” Martin said. “It puts me off.”

The redesign aims to improve traffic flow, but will also impart an aesthetic appeal sorely lacking today, said Ron Reid, the owner of Andon Reid Inn Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville.

“It is important for us because so many of our guests come in this way,” Reid said of the corridor. “It is the gateway to Waynesville.”

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The key component of the plan is replacing the middle turn lane with a landscaped median the length of Russ Avenue. Drivers could no longer dart across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic in pursuit of their favorite fast-food joint on the opposite side of the road.

Instead, left turns will be corralled at intersections, improving both safety and traffic flow. A network of new side streets would skirt behind the businesses, taking pressure off the main drag.

Intersections that are off-kilter will be aligned and extra turn lanes added. The most dramatic example is at the entrance to Ingles, where a side street looping behind CVS and McDonald’s is off-center and as a result under-utilized. A building stands in the way of the intersection to be aligned, but the plan calls for knocking it down to shift the intersection over.

“This is an awfully needed intersection alignment,” Coffey said of the spot.

The only people raising issues with the plan were property owners in the direct path of a wider road footprint. While they supported the premise of the redesign, they lobbied for alterations that wouldn’t encroach as much on their property.

“I’m taking a hit right there,” said John Burgin, pointing at the spot on the map occupied by Arby’s.

Burgin built the store 15 years ago and has leased it to Arby’s ever since. But the redesign would claim precious parking lot real estate and wipe out his drive-through exit.

“You have to have a drive-through,” Burgin said of the fast-food business. “The numbers that go through a drive-through are staggering.”

Bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of Russ Avenue would increase the road’s footprint, but would mostly fall within existing right of way. Extra turn lanes at major intersections are a different story, however, and would require taking of property. Such is the case in front of Arby’s, where an extra right-turn lane funneling vehicles into the Ingles entrance would claim part of Burgin’s already-cramped parking lot.

Mike Melner, owner of Joe’s Welding, stands to lose his entire shop if the intersection makeover at Dellwood Road goes through. But Melner said he liked the overall plan.

“There’s good and bad,” Melner said. The bad mostly being the loss of property, and the rest being good.

Melner, a horseback rider, said he would rather see horse lanes than bike lanes down Russ Avenue, thinking they would be important in the future.

“You have to keep your mind open,” Melner said.


Long, long, long way off

The town got a $40,000 state transportation planning grant to hire a firm of its choice to create a new plan for the road.

The total cost of the makeover is $21.7 million, according to estimates prepared by the firm, Wilbur Smith Associates. The road designers broke down the costs into the two major components: $15.5 million for the makeover of Russ Avenue itself and $6.1 million for the network of new side streets.

It could easily be 20 years before the plan comes to fruition, according to Town Planner Paul Benson. That’s how long it typically takes to advance a project to the top of the state road construction list. As for the Russ Avenue project, it isn’t even on the list yet, and once it does get there, there’s no telling where the DOT will place it in the pecking order.

“It’s a pretty long time in the future,” Benson said. “It is always subject to money availability and political wind.”

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