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Bus in ditch spotlights Flat Rock Village Council campaign issue

A charter bus got stuck in a ditch Thursday when it failed to make the turn from Greenville Highway onto Highland Lake Road. A charter bus got stuck in a ditch Thursday when it failed to make the turn from Greenville Highway onto Highland Lake Road.

FLAT ROCK — A charter bus stuck in a ditch tied up traffic at Greenville Highway and Highland Lake Road for a couple of hours last Thursday.

It also provided an image to highlight the central issue in an unusually robust election campaign for three seats on the Flat Rock Village Council: Is the Highland Lake Road improvement project needed or not?

“That’s the point we’ve been making about that corner,” said incumbent Ginger Brown, who favors the road project. “It’s too sharp to turn with a big vehicle with a long axle and there’s that great big hole that if you’re not careful you’ll go down in it — I can tell you from first-hand experience, especially at night. It’s dangerous.”
Council member Paige Posey, who is not on the ballot, said she was aware of the charter bus company’s problems with that corner from her time as a manager of the Flat Rock Playhouse. Blue Ridge Fire & Rescue chief Will Sheehan has also brought it up, she said.
“He was one of the first people to alert us to the fact that it’s also a really tight corner for some of his younger fire department guys that have to round that curve there” in a fire truck, she said.
“I do not want us to pull the plug on this,” Posey added. “We’re getting a lot of infrastructure and safety improvement that are needed.”
The corner may need fixing, said Brown’s opponent, Anne Coletta, but not as part of an almost $3 million road project.
“My response to that is it would be easier to fix one corner should it be required than redoing the entire road,” Coletta said when asked about the charter bus incident. The NCDOT has other categories of money, including one called high impact-low cost, that it can use for projects like intersection improvement. “Something like that would be what you would do as opposed to two years of expense on a road project that’s unnecessary,” she said.
Coletta and two other challengers, Tom Carpenter and David Dethero, make up a slate that vows to stop the Highland Lake Road project, which the Village Council endorsed in a 6-1 vote in June 2018. Vice Mayor Nick Weedman, who ran for mayor without opposition, voted no. Carpenter faces Barbara Platz in the District 1 election while Hilton Swing and Dethero are vying for the District 3 seat.

If the anti-road project candidates win, the council would have a 4-3 majority to turn back the project. Candidates and council members disagree, too, on whether the Village Council could kill the project.

At last week’s meeting of the French Broad MPO, the planning agency that coordinates highway funding, an NCDOT official said the agency has spent $826,979 on the project so far, with construction not scheduled to start until next year. If the Village Council voted to oppose the project, the MPO and state Board of Transportation would have the final say.
Village Council member John Dockendorf, a member of the MPO, said if elected leaders in Henderson County and Hendersonville endorsed the project, the MPO might be swayed to stand by it.
“The MPO is there to make wise decision rather than political will,” he said. “They would probably have to get the blessing of Henderson County and Hendersonville to kill it. I would be there lobbying the hell out of it as a citizen, I can tell you that. When these people say they can kill the road project, yes, they can. But it’s not that simple. If the election was 900 to 2, they might have a better chance than if it was a very close election.”
Brown hopes the road project survives.
“I don’t think the road should be stopped and certainly as a North Carolina taxpayer I would be horrified if the DOT just walked away from this and spent this money for nothing,” she said. “As a Village Council member I don’t think the road should be stopped because I believe in the benefits the road will give us.”
If more than $800,000 is wasted, Coletta said, at least more is saved.
“You never like to like to see money being spent needlessly but we would save them money,” she said. “The project is over $2 million now, so we’d be saving them some money.”