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County commissioners endorse NC 191 widening

N.C. 191 at West Henderson High School N.C. 191 at West Henderson High School

Henderson County commissioners on Wednesday endorsed a four-lane widening of N.C. 191, acknowledging that if they delay the project now they’ll probably lose it for a generation.

The board’s action was a departure from the recent pattern that has seen local leaders scrap or radically scale back road improvements. This time, the board agreed that the NCDOT’s plans for a four-lane divided highway with bike lanes on a 4.4-mile stretch of 191 from Hendersonville to Mills River was OK. The board invited NCDOT Division 14 engineer Brian Burch to explain and defend the project, after hearing for months from homeowners who live in the many subdivisions along the road.
“We’ve heard a lot of comments from those folks in the vicinity of 191,” Chairman Grady Hawkins said. “We’ve looked at a large amount of data from letters and suggestions, the board’s been fairly well provided all the information we got from individuals. I will say widening of 191 vs. the Balfour connection is two totally different things. It’s a lot different in making new road through several housing developments and widening a road.”
Burch, the top state transportation official for the 10-county district that covers the southwestern corner of the state, told the commissioners and audience that a four-lane N.C. 191 was on the community’s wish list since 1982, when leaders placed it on a long-range thoroughfare plan. It was also included in a state transportation improvement plan dating back to 1996, had been endorsed by governing bodies since then and awarded funding based on a state highway scoring system based on safety, congestion, shoulder width “and all the elements that go into building a road.”
The NCDOT acceded to the wishes of the Mills River Town Council, which wanted a five-lane highway with a center turn lane because of the tractors and other farm equipment that travel from field to field in that farming community. But from School House Road to Mountain Road, plans call for a four-lane divided highway that would prevent some left turns onto N.C. 191 and left turns from the highway to subdivisions.

Although the commissioners took no vote, no one expressed opposition to the project and Hawkins said after the presentation that the board favored moving ahead. The presentation came one year after commissioners in a 4-1 vote asked the state to drop the Balfour Parkway, a major new road that was designed to go from U.S. 64 East to U.S. 25 and N.C. 191. Homeowners and neighborhood organizations have strongly opposed other road projects around the county, including the Highland Lake Road and Kanuga Road improvements, roundabouts on U.S. 64 in Laurel Park and White Street improvements in Hendersonville.

Commissioner Bill Lapsley, who cast the lone no vote on the resolution to kill the Balfour Parkway, urged the board not to repeat that course on this project. Chair of the French Broad MPO, the regional agency that prioritizes highway projects, Lapsley said the county would likely lose the project for a decade or more if it insisted on new studies now.
“By the time it first enters into the system and gets to where it’s funded, we’re fortunate if it’s a 10-year plus period of time,” he said. “One of my concerns is if we delay this project 5 years, 10 years, and take another look at traffic projections … now we’re starting the process again. We’re behind the 8-ball before we get started and now we’ve pushed the project another 20 years. I’m concerned for our community that if we don’t do these projects now that there’s a good chance they will never get done.”
The project timeline, Burch said, calls for right-of-way drawings to be finished by June, right-of-way acquisition to start in October and construction contracts granted in June 2022.