Archived News

Public perspectives on Corridor K

Health and Prosperity

Two of the main arguments in favor of Corridor K construction are safety and economic growth. Road advocates maintain that having an easily traveled corridor into the area will allow larger companies — and their requisite supplies and equipment — to set up shop there. It would also give faster, safer access to health care. Residents must now traverse steep and winding two-lane roads to get to nearby hospitals and doctors’ offices. Ambulances can take up to two hours getting to Asheville’s Mission hospital, since their rescue helicopter can only reach the area in clear weather.  

Melba Millsaps

Job: Nurse

Lives in: Robbinsville – her home is in the road’s path

Position: Supports  

Related Items

“I really love where I live, and as much as I love living there, even more than that I want this road built. I know how important it is to receive quick medical care when you need it. We need to have quicker access to health care, which could mean the difference between life and death, so I’m for the road. Is it going to impact me? Yes, it is. But you know what? I’m thinking about my grandchildren and how to make it easier on them in the future.”  

The Brain Drain

Many in Graham County are concerned about the brain drain that lack of economic opportunity creates there. Unemployment is high — just above 16 percent in March — and there is no community college within the county. Some road proponents are hopeful that a 4-lane will allow their top young minds to commute to college instead of leaving the county, and that it will entice industry that can provide them jobs after graduation.  

David Matheson,

Job: Principal at Robbinsville High School

Lives in: Robbinsville

Position: Supports  

“Our No. 1 export in Graham County is our young people. The young people that we are exporting are the top 10 or 15 percent of our graduating class, every year. Our school is performing miracles with our kids, but they don’t have the ability to come back to Graham County and make a decent living. This road is the first step and this road needs to be built, even if you have to bulldoze my house to start it.”  

Environmental Destruction

Deleterious effects on the environment and natural mountainous character are the reasons some opponents list when making their case against the road. The new highway would cut a wide swath through Stecoah, and opponents highlight the changes it would bring to the region’s rugged mountain character. They also point to the road’s potential for environmental damage from leaching from acidic rocks to threats to native species.

Instead, they advocate for improving the existing two-lane road, making it less narrow and curvy, rather than building a brand-new highway.  

Ken Brown,

Job: Chairman of the Tuckasegee Community Alliance, a chapter of the WNC Alliance.

Lives in: Sylva

Position: Against  

“The WNC Alliance has long been opposed to the Corridor K proposal because of the effects on rare and endangered species and the Stecoah valley. We believe that growth should be appropriate to the region and should be managed to maintain the world-class natural resources we have here. We want [the North Carolina Department of Transportation] to undertake a more in-depth analysis of upgrading the current right-of-ways.”  

Whole Road or No Road

One opposing camp believes the proposed segment of highway would be useless unless the final link of Corridor K — section A, stretching from Robbinsville to Andrews — also gets built. They say a four-lane highway into Robbinsville petering out to a two-lane wouldn’t bring a significant increase in traffic, just a significant expense.  

Josh Carpenter

Job: Cherokee County planner

Lives in: Robbinsville

Position: Against

“I think the most important section of this road is the A section. If that’s not completed, I don’t think we’ll have any positive impact from the overall impact of the road. The road will make change and I think that Robbinsville and Graham County need to prepare for that.”  

Way too costly

Other challengers to Corridor K cite its high cost — $383 million. $197 million of that would build the tunnel. Corridor K is a part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, and the federally allocated ADHS fund would foot 80 percent of the bill, with a 20 percent match from the state. Detractors say that the $3.46 million per mile is far too much, and that economic benefits won’t offset the costs.  

Jim Grode

Job: Executive director of WaySouth, a group that promotes sustainable transport in Appalachia

Lives in: Asheville, N.C.

Position: Against  

“If we make the generous assumption that North Carolina keeps getting about the same annual amount of federal money for this highway, the earliest it could have enough money to finish this project is in 2028. The bumper stickers that say ‘the money is there, build the road now’ would be more accurate if they said ‘a fifth of the money is there, build the road in 20 years.’ It will take over 75 years for the benefits to equal the cost. That’s a payback period no investor would ever touch, and this road may literally never pay for itself.”


Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.