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Funding likely for sidewalk on U.S. 441

fr 441sidewalksThe future is looking bright for plans to build a sidewalk along U.S. 441 where Jackson County meets Cherokee, with funding recently approved from state contingency funds.

As sidewalk projects go, this one is pretty emotionally charged. Calls for its construction have been going on since October 2013, when two Whittier men were killed by cars within days of each other while walking along the road. That strip of highway contains a variety of gas stations and fast food places, which can attract foot traffic, but there’s nowhere for pedestrians to walk except the side of the highway. That can be dangerous. 

Two months after the pedestrian deaths occurred, Cherokee Tribal Council unanimously adopted a resolution asking the state to build a sidewalk there. 

“These accidents have occurred due to a lack of street lights and sidewalks along the corridor,” the resolution read. 

Jackson County soon followed suit, its then-sitting board of commissioners passing a nearly identical resolution in February 2014. 

“We felt like it was something that needed to be addressed immediately,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten. 

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Getting it done, though, was another thing. A small project like that stood little chance of competing with big highway projects in the N.C. Department of Transportation’s new prioritization process, but DOT engineer Ed Green tipped Wooten off that smaller projects costing less than $250,000 could be approved separately, at the discretion of the DOT secretary. 

That route requires approval from the House and Senate, and the OK didn’t come last year. But this month, Green received word that the money had come through, with the Senate providing $125,000 and the DOT secretary another $125,000.  All that remains is to get the project approved at the Board of Transportation’s September meeting. 

That would allow Green’s office to get started with the project, which would install 1,650 feet of sidewalk along the highway, starting at U.S. 441’s intersection with Casino Trail and continuing to the existing crosswalk at the Catamount Travel Center. The sidewalk would mostly go on county land, with the 200 feet closest to Casino Trail falling within the Qualla Boundary. The project would probably take only two or three months to complete, Green said. 

Right now, the price tag is estimated right at that max of $250,000. Neither the county nor the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians would have to contribute toward the project, as is often the case with sidewalk projects. The difference here, Green said, is that the money comes from contingency funding as a project immediately vital to public safety. As such, match funding is not be required. 

Street lights are not included in the plans, Wooten said, because the county would then have to find money to maintain them and does not currently have street lights anywhere else within its jurisdiction.

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