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N.C. 107 utility plans leave relocation list unchanged

Members of the public look over updated maps at a right-of-way drop-in meeting the N.C. Department of Transportation held Dec. 9 in Sylva. Holly Kays photo Members of the public look over updated maps at a right-of-way drop-in meeting the N.C. Department of Transportation held Dec. 9 in Sylva. Holly Kays photo

With updated plans hot off the presses, the N.C. Department of Transportation welcomed well over 100 people to an open house Dec. 9 dedicated to the N.C. 107 project.

While the plans are not yet considered final, they’re close to it. Utility easements have been drawn in with edits made to already-completed sections of the plan as well — and the good news is the list of properties slated for relocation has not grown as a result. The number of relocations could still change, but Division Engineer Brian Burch said that he expects it to land pretty close to the 55 listed on the preliminary relocation list. 

“Those numbers have not changed,” said Burch. “I don’t know that we’ll have a revised amount of relocations until after we start the right-of-way process because in some cases, it will be up to the property owner whether they choose to be relocated or not. There may still be some residual value to a building or to a property and we’ll have to negotiate that out.”

Originally slated to begin in January, the right-of-way process will now be delayed until March or April. That’s because the project is to be bond-funded, and the bonds in question won’t sell until May, said Burch. Costs to be paid by those bonds can’t be incurred until 60 days prior to the sale. 

“That’s why we’re saying there’s no rush to start it,” he said. “We’ve got until March, April before we can start making offers and settlements.”

Open house attendees included elected officials, government leaders, interested members of the public and people who own businesses or property in the affected area. The event was geared toward that last group of people, said Burch, in hopes of helping them to better understand the process and how it might affect their particular location. 

Among the business and property owners who stand to be affected, sentiment about the project varies. 

Harriet Shields, a veterinarian whose business Jackson County Veterinary Associates has operated out of the same building for 40 years, said plans show the structure will be demolished and the roadway built straight through it. It’s a bittersweet thing, but she has faith that the road project will ultimately be good for Sylva. She hopes to see the business remain in town but at a newer, better location. 

“It’s like home, but at the same time it’s getting to the point where because of where it is and how close it is to the highway, it’s a little scary being in that building and having people almost come into the waiting room if there’s a car accident,” she said. “It’ll be like saying goodbye to your childhood home as an adult.”

Patricia Cowen, a Sylva resident who owns rental property along N.C. 107, had a different take. Her property will be inconvenienced during construction, but the DOT won’t need to purchase it to complete the road project. 

“I will probably not lose my buildings and I will get everything back still in some functional use, which is of course very good news, although I wish they’d take it all and give me a lot of money,” she said. “But that doesn’t seem to be an option.”

While Cowen didn’t have any real criticisms of the plan as it relates to her property, she was skeptical of the overall vision.

“I think we wanted a boulevard, and they’re giving us a super highway,” she said. 

The plan seems an overreaction to the need, she said. The road’s high accident rate has been often brought up as a driving factor in the need for a new road, but most of the accidents there seem to be fender benders, she said.

“That’s not a real viable reason for doing all this in my opinion,” she said. 

Jeannie Kelley, who owns Kel-Save Drugs and founded the 1,500-member group Say No To The Road, believes the plan won’t address the core of the issue. 

“They’re not taking any of the cars off the road,” she said. “There’ll still be cars. I think the U-turns will be backed up many times a day and you’ll probably have more accidents than ever. I would be all for it they were taking stuff off the road, but they aren’t. So I think it’s all for naught.”

Meanwhile, DOT officials have maintained that by restricting where drivers can enter and exit the road, traffic flow will be more steady and predictable, decreasing the number of accidents and reducing the constant braking and accelerating that now characterizes drives on N.C. 107. Kelley still hopes to see the project halted. Say No To The Road has prepared a petition with 5,000 signatures in hopes of prompting a no vote on the bond sale, she said. 

After right-of-way, the current timeline calls for the construction contract to let in December 2022 with construction beginning around February 2023. The work is expected to take about 3.5 years to complete, with right-of-way and construction combined costing approximately $100 million. 

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