After almost two years of work, a committee of local stakeholders and officials have completed a preliminary draft of a Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) for Macon County. The plan looks at transportation needs for the county as it grows over the next 25 years and includes a number of specific recommendations for future road projects and other transportation infrastructure investments.
The committee is now asking for public input on the preliminary CTP. On Thursday, March 24, a public workshop for the plan was held in the boardroom of the Franklin Town Hall. Committee members and representatives from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) were present to answer questions about the plan. Written comments on the CTP were collected at the workshop and will continue to be accepted for 30 days (until April 23).
Besides volume and capacity issues on the county’s current road networks, the plan also addresses pedestrian issues, bicycle issues, public transportation issues and possible new road projects. The state once provided “thoroughfare” plans in Raleigh that only addressed highways as modes of transportation, said Ryan Sherby, a Region A planner with the Southwestern Commission and the primary facilitator of the committee’s work over the past year.
“This whole process of a multi-modal plan with community input is new for the NCDOT,” Sherby said. He explained that the new format came out of a governor’s initiative to depoliticize the NCDOT planning process and allow more public involvement.
Jackson County recently completed its own CTP, and Swain and Clay counties are also in the process of producing plans. In the future, counties which have a completed, community-approved CTP will be given priority on the state’s five-year transportation project lists.
Concerns over preserving rural heritage
Among the concerns expressed at the public workshop, preserving the rural character and mountain heritage of the county’s roads and throughways topped the list. Of particular concern was a list of 22 road projects on display at the workshop that do not have capacity issues but which might be considered for upgrading to current NCDOT width standards.
Susan Ervin, a member of the county planning board, was one attendee who expressed concerns about roads, such as the northern section of Hwy. 28, listed as possible “minor widening” projects. “As a member of the [north Macon] rural community, I am adamantly opposed to what they are proposing for Hwy. 28,” Ervin said.
An upgrade to the winding, rural highway has been under consideration for years, and for just as long residents have been expressing their opposition. Ervin recalled being among those who started collecting petitions against a proposed upgrade 15 years ago.
Ervin said she was happy that communities are starting to be included in transportation planning, and she recognized the hard work which the CTP committee had put into the plan. “I think that a lot of us feel that DOT’s planning in the past has been pretty insensitive to rural, mountain communities,” she remarked.
“What concerns us is that our community has very consciously said we want to remain rural,” Ervin explained. She noted that a community initiative had recently led to gaining Scenic Highway status for Hwy. 28, but she added that there were other projects being considered that were also concerns: Needmore Road, Snow Hill Road and the McCoy Bridge among them.
“We don’t want DOT standard roads; we don’t even have capacity issues,” said Ervin. “I don’t think anything on that list should be put on without the committee and the community reviewing it, because it did not come from the community and the committee.”
Sherby said that it was important for the committee to collect feedback from the public but added that the existence of a road project on the alternative list does not mean the CTP committee is promoting the projects or that a certain project will be scheduled in the future.
“Just because it’s on this list tonight does not mean this project is going to get approved,” Sherby stressed.
“In our meeting in a month, [the committee] will analyze all the public comments and probably strike some of the items from the list,” explained Sherby. At a previous meeting there had been discussion over whether to even include projects on the list that the committee knew there was substantial opposition to. In the end the majority had voted to send the whole list to the workshop, Sherby said.
Several other residents who attended the workshop expressed similar concerns. Sharon Taylor, who sits on the CTP committee as a representative from the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, said she had been for removing some roads from the list from the outset.
Sissy Patillo, Town Alderperson and member of the CTP committee, acknowledged that there were projects on the alternative list that would probably be removed completely. On the other hand, she said that she hoped some projects on the list, such as upgrades to Wayah Road, would be prioritized and added to the main list of recommendations from the committee.