Transportation plan sees little traffic
by Anna Oakes
An infinitesimal portion of Watauga County residents weighed in on a proposed Comprehensive Transportation Plan for the county -- a long-range plan that includes a new freeway bypassing Boone.
A draft version of the plan -- developed by a steering committee since September 2010 -- was unveiled Oct. 11, and a public comment period lasted from then until Nov. 13, including a public workshop held Nov. 8. The High Country Council of Governments received approximately 160 public survey responses and comments, which represents roughly 0.3 percent of the county population.
"I would have liked to have seen more comments, whether they were good or bad," said Craig Hughes, transportation planner for High Country Council of Governments. "I was expecting more. It's hard to get people involved in planning."
The CTP is a multimodal plan that includes four maps of transportation networks: highway, public transportation/rail, bicycle and pedestrian. The plan reviews existing conditions and facilities and recommends improvements.
Of 152 survey responses, 63.2 percent said they do not agree with the highway recommendations and problem statements, while 36.8 percent said they did agree. When asked which recommendation(s) they would remove, the majority of the 45 respondents who answered the open-ended question identified the proposed bypass.
"The folks who are affected by the bypass, or thought they would be -- they showed up," Hughes said.
The bypass, or "Daniel Boone Parkway," would circumvent the town to the south, veering off of U.S. 421 east of Boone through the Bamboo, Deerfield, Winkler's Creek and Poplar Grove areas before reconnecting with U.S. 421 west of Boone. In 2008, cost estimates for the project ranged from $149 million to $294 million.
Comments opposing the bypass cited concerns about costs, environmental impacts, negative effects on town businesses, property values and the need for the project.
"Boone is a destination much more than a pass through," wrote one respondent. "Approximately 17,000 students and 5,000 staff head to ASU every school day. The bypass will do nothing to relieve this."
"The bypass idea should be abandoned," wrote another commenter. "Too expensive and I'm not convinced it will alleviate congestion. We need to discourage car use and encourage other modes." Forty respondents also shared alternative recommendations.
Additional highway recommendations include upgrading U.S. 421 to a four-lane road west of Boone, replacing the center lane on U.S. 321/Hardin Street with a median, widening the N.C. 105 bypass to four lanes, widening N.C. 194 to four lanes from East King Street to Howard's Creek Road and widening lanes on Bamboo Road, Wilson Ridge Road and Deerfield Road to 12 feet wide.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (59 answered the question) said they agreed with public transit recommendations in the CTP, while 36.6 percent (34 respondents) said they disagreed. Eighty-one percent (66 respondents) agreed with pedestrian recommendations, and 78.9 percent (60 respondents) agreed with the plan's bicycle recommendations.
The High Country Council of Governments will present public comments to the CTP steering committee Dec. 6. If a final plan is approved by the committee, the committee will seek adoption of the CTP from town and county boards in Watauga County.
Municipalities must submit projects to the N.C. Department of Transportation for consideration before they can be studied, planned, funded and constructed.
For more information about the CTP, visit http://www.regiond.org/WCTP.html or call (828) 265-5434.
To view the CTP survey responses and comments, visit http://www.wataugademocrat.com.