Committee members agree that only specific projects should be included in final plan
During a meeting of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) Committee last week, the decision was made to eliminate a list of 22 minor widenings that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has said could be considered for upgrading to current design standards. At the meeting committee members were reviewing public input on the plan that has been collected over the past month.
The CTP is a long-range plan which identifies major transportation improvement needs in Macon County and develops longterm solutions for the next 25 to 30 years. It is a joint effort between the Towns of Franklin and Highlands, Macon County, the NCDOT and the Southwestern Rural Planning Organization.
At a March 24 public workshop on the plan, which has been in development for almost two years, many attendees expressed concern about a list of 22 projects which were included at the workshop but which had not been reviewed by the CTP committee. Among the projects on the list which elicited particular alarm were widenings to Hwy. 28 in the northern half of the county, a throughway which the community there fought for years to obtain Scenic Byway status for.
“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,” said Susan Ervin, an attendee at the workshop who expressed a common sentiment regarding the inclusion of the list in the plan.
At last week’s meeting of the CTP committee, Ervin, who sits on the county's Planning Board, spoke again during the public comment portion of the meeting and reemphasized her opposition to inclusion of the list in the plan. “This committee has developed a list of community priorities, and it will take years if not decades to carry out those projects,” she said. “The entire list of 22 projects suggested by the DOT only adds confusion and even competition to the plan.”
Cooper Sellers of the NCDOT Planning Branch, reviewing the public input that was collected at the workshop and during the following weeks, noted that the minor widenings list was one of the most frequently commented on aspects of the plan. In total, twelve comments on the list had been received by the committee, with eleven opposed to its inclusion in the plan.
While the committee did not have the quorum necessary to take action at last week's meeting, the consensus among members in attendance was to support the recommendation of Ryan Sherby, the Region A planner facilitating the development of the transportation plan, who suggested that the list be removed in its entirety from the plan.
Franklin Town planner Mike Grubermann, a member of the CTP committee, noted that some of the specific widening projects on the list were projects that the town has been pursuing for some time. He said that he would not like to see those particular projects removed from the list for fear that it might be a setback for the town. The committee members all agreed, however, that specific projects from the list could be replaced in the plan individually with approval of the committee as a whole.
Grubermann indicated six projects within Franklin’s town limits that the town hoped to move forward on in the coming years, including work on Wayah Street, Womack Street, Main Street and Palmer Street, Lakeside Drive, and Porter Street. The committee also discussed other projects for possible inclusion in plan, including widenings to Cat Creek Road, Rabbit Creek Road and Hicks Road in Highlands.
Other possible projects were also discussed as possible additions before the finalization of the plan, including upgrades to Iotla Church Road to sustain the increased traffic anticipated with opening of the new and larger Iotla Valley K-4 School, scheduled for completion in 2012.
Finally Sherby suggested that the plan be released again for public comment once the committee has settled on a revised version of the plan that takes into consideration the first round of public input and makes any other changes agreed up by the committee.
McCoy Bridge resolution not a ‘win-win’ for some Cowee residents
Though projects being currently considered by the NCDOT are outside the purview of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan committee, a number of the comments at last week’s meeting concerned an NCDOT plan to tear down McCoy Bridge, a historic and rare one-lane truss bridge in the Cowee community, and replace it with a standard twolane concrete slab bridge. A recent resolution adopted by the Macon County Board of Commissioners proposed a compromise to the controversy.
At a public hearing on the project on April 25, the overwhelming majority of attendees were opposed to destroying the bridge and many expressed the desire to see the bridge refurbished instead. The commissioners resolution, passed unanimously on May 10, called for a compromise solution that would see the structure maintained as a pedestrian bridge and while the new bridge would be constructed down stream. A recent Macon County News story called the proposal a “win-win” compromise.
“This was not a win-win compromise,” said Trisha Severin. “I’m very disappointed that, when at this meeting clearly the majority spoke for rehabilitation, and our local government heard that, ... but we were ignored.”
Severin noted that a previous public hearing on the project in 2009, NCDOT officials had promised to study the option of rehabilitating the bridge which currently does not meet minimum safety standards. Though a study was done, no rehabilitation alternative was presented as a possible option at the April hearing. Severin asked that the NCDOT hold another hearing that presents the rehabilitation alternative as a genuine option.
Bob Woodward of the Western North Carolina Alliance also addressed the committee on his disappointment with the compromise solution proposed by the commission. “We have put in almost two and a half years of work to keep McCoy Bridge a working bridge, not to put it on the Greenway or to turn it into something else,” said Woodward. He then read a letter sent to Gov. Bev Perdue in which he lamented NCDOT's refusal to genuinely consider the will of the community in its planning process.
Other speakers, including Lucy Smarr, a resident of Meadows Road, gave similar comments about their desire to see McCoy Bridge renovated rather than changed into a pedestrian bridge.
County commissioner Bob Kuppers, who is also a member of the CTP committee, spoke to these comments later in the meeting. Kuppers, who had attended the public hearing on McCoy Bridge and who had drafted the resolution, defended it saying that it represented a reasonable way to address both the preservation of the historic bridge and the safety concerns of the NCDOT and have funding for both. “You know you have reached a good compromise when nobody is completely happy,” he remarked.
“I think it is a reasonable compromise,” said Eric Moberg, chairman of the Cowee Community Development Organization (CCDO). Moberg, who was not at the CTP meeting but was called later for his comment on the issue, noted that a similar solution had been discussed several years ago. “If we can negotiate with the DOT to provide maintenance for the bridge in lieu of demolition, it could make a lot of sense.”
The first choice of the CCDO would be to see the bridge renovated, said Moberg, agreeing that the NCDOT has never really presented the community with a plan for renovations. But Moberg says that in the face of funding constraints, the compromise may be the best option. He added that the CCDO hopes any new structure will be designed to blend in aesthetically with the community and not be “simply a concrete monolith like Lost Bridge.”
Rich Rob, another Cowee community resident, is also very satisfied with the commissioners’ compromise solution. “Nobody’s got any money anymore,” he said. “They’re either gonna build a new bridge and tear that one down or do nothing. What we’re trying to get them to do is just not tear that one down.”
Ann Shepherd, resident of Snow Hill Road, said her primary concern is safety. “There needs to be a bridge built down there that ambulances, school busses and fire trucks can cross,” she said. “If it will satisfy those people who are raising cane about a new bridge, then go for the compromise. We’ve got to think of safety first.”