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DOT gets earful from public on Southern Loop

Jackson County resident Susan Leveille opposes the construction of a N.C. 107 bypass.

“I am very hopeful DOT and all other powers who make decisions will take a look at the alternatives to a bypass for alleviating traffic concerns,” Leveille said.

Leveille told The Smoky Mountain News her concerns about the project last Thursday (Dec. 4) during a public information meeting put on by the North Carolina Department of Transportation at Western Carolina University.

Constructing a bypass would destroy mountain scenery and communities that have been a part of Leveille’s family for five to six generations, she said.

“It would destroy why we like living here and why people like visiting here,” she said.

A bypass connecting N.C. 107 with U.S. Highway 23/74 would also create noise, runoff and pollution problems, she added.

About 150 residents attended the meeting, which featured large maps stationed around the room with DOT officials on hand to answer questions . DOT Project Planning Engineer Ryan White said the purpose of the meeting was to gather input from the public on the project.

DOT is currently evaluating the traffic problems on N.C. 107 and determining possible solutions. DOT plans to have list of solutions in late 2009 and choose one in 2012.

DOT’s timeline also calls for buying right of way in 2015 and construction beginning after 2015.

Building the bypass is not a sure thing, as DOT is just in the beginning phases of the project, according to Joel Setzer, head of the DOT for the 10 western counties.

Setzer said the community must come together to determine if a connector is the best solution to ease congestion. Many would say simply redesigning N.C. 107 is all that is needed, Setzer said, adding that all alternatives need to be explored.

Setzer sees advantages to a new road, however.

“I think a connector would provide an alternative for people,” he said.

N.C. 107 gets congested during the morning and afternoon from traffic going to Western Carolina University, Southwestern Community College, Smoky Mountain High School and Fairview Elementary School. Traffic from Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Ingles and other businesses contributes to the congestion.

“There’s definitely a need to improve traffic flow on N.C. 107,” said White.

With so much traffic on N.C. 107 the likelihood of accidents increases, White added.

Rather than building a bypass, other alternatives such as redesigning N.C. 107 could possibly alleviate congestion. The situation could also be improved if more people used public transportation, such as students riding school buses.

DOT is currently conducting a feasibility study to determine if N.C. 107 should be redesigned.

Norma Medford of Blanton Branch, which is near where the proposed connector would be located, said she opposes the project because it would destroy forests.

White said environmental concerns are taken into consideration by DOT. He said DOT cannot do anything without approval from several environmental agencies.

Medford doesn’t think the traffic on N.C. 107 is bad enough to warrant a new road.

“I don’t know why there has to be a new road,” she said. “I’m extremely opposed to it.”

Throughout the process DOT is scheduled to have several public information workshops. The project is estimated to cost $132 million.

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