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DOT 'compromise' gets lukewarm reception

Henderson County Planning Department Henderson County Planning Department

DOT engineers offered a compromise design that could help retailers along Spartanburg Highway near Upward Road but Henderson County commissioners sounded less than placated.

The commissioners had summoned DOT engineers to explain a four-foot wide, 520-foot long concrete median on Spartanburg Highway that businesses in the Village Square shopping strip say threatens their businesses.

Engineers Steve Cannon and Aaron Powell explained the state designers' reasons for the plans, which call for dual left turn lanes from Spartanburg Highway into Upward Road leading toward I-26. Cannon said DOT projections show 14,000 left turns a day at that intersection. Two business owners pleaded with the commissioners and the DOT to compromise so that cars could turn left into the shopping center, which is home to the Tobacco Outlet and Negozio's Italian Deli.

The DOT compromise would create a "slip lane" allowing left turns onto Mt. Airy Street but it would not change the design which permits right turns only from Mt. Airy Street onto Spartanburg Highway. Commissioners said they thought the DOT project would harm businesses on both sides of Spartanburg Highway by limiting traffic movements.

Cannon and Powell said they could only request a design change but could not guarantee that engineers at headquarters would accept it.

Commissioners ordered County Manager Steve Wyatt to look into the median project after store manager Wanda Case Tolar brought the issue to the board's attention during an April 18 meeting. DOT plans show a concrete median extending a tenth of a mile west of the intersection of Upward Road. The intersection work is part of the state Department of Transportation project to four-lane Upward Road, and commissioners' options are limited.

"The Board of Commissioners has no authority to change NCDOT plans for road projects," County Planning Director Anthony Starr said in a memo. DOT district engineer Steve Cannon and resident engineer Aaron Powell are scheduled to attend the board meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the project.

The commissioners could find themselves hamstrung again in trying to influence or change DOT plans just as they were when property owners along Upward Road pleaded for a center turn lane as part of the Upward widening. Instead, DOT stuck with its plans for two lanes in either direction separated by a median, a design that engineers say is much safer.

The median along Spartanburg Highway will prevent left turns into Mt. Airy Street and the Village Square Shopping and prevent left turns from the street and the strip shopping center. Tenants include Negozio's Italian Deli and the Tobacco Outlet, which sells cigarettes, pipe tobacco, dip and chewing tobacco.

"We're just terribly fearful it will prevent anybody from wanting to come into the business," Tolar said in an interview.

After she appeared at the commissioners' meeting last month, Tolar received a call from Wyatt saying DOT engineers would be at the meeting this week.

"We're hoping that we can come to a compromise where they will at least start the wall at the Mt. Airy Street entrance" east of the intersection, she said Sunday. "That way we can have access to our stores."

In public meetings, the median has been referred to as a four-foot wall. Actually, it's four feet wide and five inches high, DOT plans say.