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Burrell, Setzer plug plan for Southern Loop

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Members of Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance are sifting through paperwork at the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division 14 office in Webster to find out how the Southern Loop road project suddenly appeared on the state priority list.

The group filed a public records request earlier this month to see all the documentation involving the Southern Loop, a four-lane bypass that would run through Jackson County from U.S. 441 to U.S. 23-74 near Scotts Creek.

But members are going to have trouble finding the sheet of paper that many consider the smoking gun.

“There is nothing in here about how the project got on the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) list,” Joel Setzer, division 14 chief engineer, said about the project’s documentation. “I know how it got on the TIP — at the request of me and Conrad Burrell, Division 14 representative on the state Board of Transportation.”

Both men requested that the project be included in the TIP so that funding could be allocated to begin planning stages, said Setzer.

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“Time was passing without any plan to address growth in Jackson County,” he said.

Since the road’s proposal, Smart Road members have been questioning why the project was even proposed.

The Southern Loop has received much opposition by Jackson County residents and county commissioners have gone on the record saying a comprehensive transportation plan should be done that outlines alternatives to the road.

Even though the Smart Roads group now knows who requested the project be included on the TIP, it still wants more questions answered.

“The question still to be answered is why should it be built,” said DJ Gerkin, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville that is aiding the Smart Roads group.

“Either DOT decided its own reason, or were they persuaded by someone,” he said.

“There are road projects all over Western North Carolina that are not being funded. If DOT puts this on their own agenda, that also tells us something,” said Gerkin.

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