The North Carolina Department of Transportation has postponed the selection of a final design alternative for improvements to Needmore Road in Macon County to allow time for the study of additional design concepts. According to the state, approximately 18 months will be needed to complete these additional studies.
Needmore Road is considered a picturesque, gravel road that connects Macon to Swain County along the Little Tennessee River through a 4,500 acre region of preserved game land. The road improvement project has been a source of much controversy since last summer when NCDOT began its public input process.
Originally, five basic alternatives, from alternative A (do nothing) to its preferred alternative E: widening and paving the road to upgrade it to secondary road standards, which would cost more than an estimated $13 million, were given by the NCDOT as possible actions to take on improving the road.
The public opinion of the project has varied, with some members of the community speaking out in favor of alternative E, while others have pleaded to just leave the scenic throughway alone. The selection of a final alternative was previously scheduled to take place this month.
Due to numerous conservation groups and comments received on the State Environmental Assesment that have pointed out that the department’s preferred alternative is the most invasive and potentially damaging to the corridor, an ecologically sensitive area home to several endangered and threatened species, the additional studies being conducted will attempt to reduce the impacts to wetlands, streams, acidic rock areas and the Tellico Valley Historic District.
Additionally, they aim to reduce the overall cost of the project. Two main elements of the design concept are slope design and retaining walls.
After meeting with Swain County officials in April, Commissioner Ronnie Beale said, “We want a safe road, and we want a road that cuts down on erosion,” said Beale, “but we don’t want to destroy that area. We feel we could really do less and have just as good of a road and save a lot of money.”
If a new alternative is developed from these studies and consensus is reached by the merger team to carry it forward, additional public hearings will be scheduled at a later date in Macon and Swain counties to seek input from the public. A meeting notice will be sent out once those dates have been determined.
For more information, contact Jamille Robbins with NCDOT’s Public Involvement Unit at (919) 707-6085.