R-5600 (107 Road Project)
I want to take some time to respond to a lot of questions and concerns community members have been expressing about the 107 road project. I also want to provide some information on the project as it stands right now. What follows is solely my understanding of this project and my opinion on it. I do not speak for the other Sylva Town Board members or the County Commissioners or DOT staff.
First of all, let me begin by explaining Sylva’s involvement in this road project. Our number one role in this project is to look out for our community and to be a resource for helping those that are affected by it. It is also our role to advocate to the state for effective solutions that result in a safer, more efficient road while having a minimal negative impact on our community. However, it needs to be made clear that the town of Sylva is NOT in the business of designing state highways, nor do we have the authority to do so. The decision to redo 107 was made a priority in Jackson County's Comprehensive Transportation Plan in 2010 which then all municipalities in the county adopted. A regional board made up of the 6 westernmost counties then voted to prioritize the project over all other road projects in the region. It was then given attention at the state level where it was deemed a high priority. The prioritization of 107 was due to the extreme safety issues with the current road especially given the projected growth along the corridor. The Jackson County Comprehensive Transportation Plan is not a specific plan on how to improve 107. It is a statement that the highway is overcrowded and inefficient and that it needs to be addressed. The plan was updated in 2017 and again approved by all the municipalities in the county.
Minimizing impact to businesses has been the goal of the town of Sylva since the beginning. In response to the NC-107 Improvements Feasibility Study in 2010 the Town of Sylva sent a letter saying that the town did not want the number of lanes increased and that they wanted little to no increase in highway width in order to minimize impact on businesses along the corridor (see link at bottom).
So then how did we end up with a road plan so much wider than what exists? DOT did a lot of studies on how to make this road safer, easier for business access, and quicker to get through. Their conclusion was that the goal could not be accomplished without the plan that they have right now. The footprint of the current road simply does not allow for the traffic volume it currently has and doesn’t even come close to meeting the needs of the projected increase in vehicle traffic to come. Did we believe them? No. So we hired a firm (actually they volunteered their time for free) called the Asheville Design Center. They are an independent non-profit that specializes in community planning and has road engineers on their staff. They have, on many projects, worked with DOT and an impacted community to come up with brilliant solutions that achieve what both parties needed achieved. Over the course of a year they examined DOT’s plans, the community’s concerns, and the Town of Sylva’s request for solutions. They also explored a lot of ideas that the community put forth such as the parallel road, roundabouts, overpasses, etc. We have not received their final report (it is due any day) but I will share with you some of their conclusions. With the exception of some suggestions involving crosswalk improvements and other matters that didn’t impact right of way they concluded that DOT’s plan achieves the minimal safety improvements and traffic flow benefits needed with the least impact possible to businesses. In the sections below I will explain some of the answers they have found along with information DOT and the Southwest Regional Commission have provided especially when it comes to things like bike lanes, sidewalks, the wide median, and other aspects of the road that seem like they are causing the most trouble. I will also try to answer some of the questions people asked at our meeting on August 8th.
Do we need a bike lane if it results in more businesses being taken?
The bike lanes have been targeted more than anything else in this entire discussion surrounding the 107 project. Removing the bike lanes was something that we had the Asheville Design Center look into. However, removing the bike lanes had little to no impact on right of way acquisition. This is due to a number of reasons. The main reason is the NC Board of Transportation's Complete Streets Policy which requires new road projects accommodate all modes of transportation. If the bike lanes get removed then for the road to comply with the Complete Streets Policy the right hand lane would need to be widened to accommodate things like bikes and scooters. The right hand lane would also need to be made wider to accommodate vehicles turning onto and off of 107 without having to come to a near complete stop in the road or turn into the adjacent lane. A wider right lane also allows room for traffic to accommodate emergency vehicles now that the center lane is no longer available. But the right lane doesn’t need to be made wider if it has a bike lane there instead. Long story short, if the bike lanes were removed then the right lane would just simply need to be made wider. For these reasons removing the bike lanes resulted in a negligible loss of right of way acquisition and, as I understand, did not result in anybody’s building being saved. I agree that 107 isn’t a great road for recreational biking but not everybody bikes for recreation. For some people it’s their only mode of transportation.
People spoke out against sidewalks
Are sidewalks increasing right of way acquisition? Yes. Are they mandatory? No. This is one area where Sylva does have a lot of control. Things like sidewalks where sidewalks didn’t exist before are called betterments and we have the authority to add things like this. We could also probably ask that they be removed. However, I think it would be incredibly short-sighted to not put sidewalks along this stretch. A lot of people speak out against them but I see too many people walking on this stretch of road and it would be far too unsafe to do so without sidewalks. No well-designed road, in my opinion, leaves off sidewalks. Not everybody can afford a car. Safety is the number one priority with this road and there’s no way to guarantee pedestrian safety without them. Not having sidewalks on other existing roads is one of the largest complaints I get as a commissioner. I would like to see us plan ahead in regards to walkability with this project. There are also minimum flat shoulder widths behind the curb and sidewalks fit into this space. So yes they increase right of way acquisition but not by as much as one would think. You obviously can’t place parking spots up against the curb of a highway but you can place them close to the sidewalk so you do gain a little bit of free space in which to put your sidewalks.
A lot of people spoke out against roundabouts
There are no roundabouts. Some people also mentioned that they wanted a roundabout at the intersection of Asheville highway and 107 with an overpass for people turning left. This was one of the options explored. Due to the grading of the slope down Asheville highway the DOT determined that the bridge that went over the road would need to start so far back that it then became the longest bridge in the western part of the state. They deemed it infeasible. It also increased right of way acquisition and resulted in more businesses being taken. To be honest, this has been a recurring theme for a lot of good ideas people have come up with. When you take them to traffic and road engineers, including ones not associated with DOT, they just do not work or they end up having a higher impact on even more businesses. It was this way with Carl Queen’s (I think I got the name right) idea. His idea hit a roadblock in a quite literal sense in that it required removing a small mountain and resulted in a larger impact on businesses.
Somebody mentioned we need a study to determine the impact of this road and its benefits
Yes, there has already been numerous studies conducted. These studies show that this will improve traffic flow, be much safer, and result in quicker time to destination. The problem with this road is mainly traffic flow and not traffic count. We have poorly placed and poorly designed intersections and a dangerous “suicide” lane that no well-built road today uses. These studies have also shown that a bypass would not alleviate a significant amount of traffic on 107. A study done by the Southwest Regional Commission showed that even if the bypass were built then 107 would still need to be redesigned. The saving grace of this road project in many ways is that it improves traffic flow, is much safer, and does this while NOT reducing the number of vehicles on the road. If it makes sense for there to be a business along this road today then it will make sense for there to be a business there in the future. We will need final plans before we can say this definitely but a lot of these businesses should be able to relocate on their exact same lot and should be fairly compensated to do so. They will also be assigned, to them specifically, a person who is there to help them relocate and navigate DOT’s system of relocation.
Am I for or against the road?
This is a very elementary way of looking at this issue. Do I think this plan is a good plan? No, nobody does. DOT has set their plans in front of us and I want to find ways to keep the improvements to the road and lessen the negative impacts on our community. Am I going to “say no to the road”? Absolutely not. I’m tasked with finding solutions to problems not just complaining about them. Doing nothing on this road is not an option. When people are polled asking if they think 107 is fine the way it exists today I have yet to see a single person raise their hand.
The biggest takeaway from our meeting on August 8th is that people are frustrated with not having enough information or from having inaccurate information. I don’t blame anybody for having inaccurate information and I apologize for our Mayor’s comment that night that suggested everybody was misinformed. This is a complex process involving a lot of players so it is natural. These studies are all out there but they are long and they are difficult to parse out and sometimes nearly impossible to interpret. One thing is clear and that is that the town of Sylva needs to pick up more of the burden in sharing this information with the public. That is our fault and not yours. I also know it was frustrating for a lot of people that came and spoke at the meeting on August 8th and got no response from the commissioners. Unfortunately, in order for us to discuss something it needs to be on our agenda. Since a lot of people showed up to talk about the 107 project and it wasn't on our agenda then they had to use the public comments period to do so. However, the public comment period is a time for us to listen to the public only. It is not to be used as a platform for us to talk and respond. If you want to speak to me directly you can always email me or call me. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 828-399-1462.
These two PDF Viewers show the 65% plans. It is split into two viewers because the total file size was too large for this website. You will need to download both of them to have the complete set of drawings.