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City Council to discuss Highland Lake Road project

The Hendersonville City Council is scheduled to discuss the Highland Lake Road project during its regular meeting on Thursday ahead of a regional planning meeting that could kill the road job. The county Transportation Advisory Committee is expected to take a position on the road project on Jan. 13 and the French Broad MPO is scheduled to discuss it on Jan. 23.

The City Council will take up the question less than two weeks after the Flat Rock Village Council voted 4-3 to ask the NCDOT to drop the project, which has been the most contentious issue in Flat Rock over the past three years. A slate of three candidates opposed to the road project won seats on the council in the Nov. 5 election and acted immediately to kill the road improvement.

Council member Jennifer Hensley, the council's new delegate on the French Broad MPO, will be asked to vote on the question at the regional planning meeting. "Therefore, we are asking the City Council to establish the city's position on stopping this project prior to the formal vote of the MPO," City Manager John Connet said.

In the supporting documents for the council's agenda, city officials report a timeline of the project:

  • 2011: The project was submitted for NCDOT road planning priority list but not funded.
  • 2014: The MPO approved local input points for the project.
  • 2015: Initially not picked for funding in the NCDOT plans, the project received funding after the Legislature added more road money in September 2015.
  • January 2016: The MPO adds Highland Lake Road among other projects to the funded list for Division 14, the southwestern N.C. district that includes Henderson County.

Division 14 engineer Brian Burch said in an interview that the process to kill the project would be the same as occurred for the Balfour Parkway. In that case, after the Henderson County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution formally opposing the project, the MPO recommended its removal from the state Transportation Improvement Plan and the state Board of Transportation killed the project in a final vote. The Highland Lake Road question is complicated by the fact that its 1-mile length passes through three jurisdictions — Flat Rock, Hendersonville and Henderson County.

State Rep. Chuck McGrady said he had been hearing from local officials about the question.

"I can understand the Balfour Parkway as a new road but part of the issue with this one is that it was simply a fix of some perceived problems and it was done at the request of all the Henderson County entities," he said. "Moreover, the DOT has got more than $1 million already tied up in this thing. There’s a lot of concern that if we do this two times with two projects, will we ever get anything done because we’re viewed as not being supportive of DOT for doing what was requested. Everybody is acutely aware of this project.”

Anne Coletta, who led the faction opposing the road, is now the Village Council's representative on the TAC and the MPO. She said on Monday that she had spoken with the French Broad MPO’s executive director, Tristan Winkler, about the procedure for an appeal if the MPO does not agree to cancel the project and has talked to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who lives in Flat Rock, about an appeal if the state board denies the request.

“We fully expect the MPO to honor the wishes of the Village of Flat Rock,” she said, adding that the proposed job was “a very local project.”