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Highland Lake Road project cost soars

FLAT ROCK – The N.C. Department of Transportation recently awarded a contract to upgrade North Highland Lake Road with construction starting as soon as Oct. 1 at an amount that drove the total project cost $7 million above engineers' original projection.

NCDOT awarded Buchanan & Sons Inc. of Whittier a $6.7 million contract after a rebid last month.

In January of 2020, the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization voted 15-1 in opposition to a request from the Village of Flat Rock to stop the project. Also that month, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to support the project, and the Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee voted 8-1 to support the project. In both cases the lone no votes were cast by Flat Rock Vice Mayor Anne Coletta, who led a slate of candidates opposed to the road project to victory in the November 2019 village election.

The total project cost, the NCDOT told Coletta in response to her inquiry, is currently $9.57 million — $7 million more than the original $2.62 million estimate. Project costs include $1.27 million for engineering, $1.6 million for utility relocation and right of way and $6.7 million for construction.

"I think it’s disappointing for the taxpayers that NCDOT is continuing with this project, which the local Flat Rock community through its elected officials has requested be stopped," Coletta said in an email. "This road project has increased from an initial cost estimate of $2.62 million to the current $9.57 million, a 265 percent increase. There are more worthwhile projects in Henderson County that are needed and wanted that this money should go towards. According to the state auditor’s office, NCDOT has a recent history of poor budgeting and oversight and, in my opinion, the North Highland Lake Road project is an example of this mismanagement."

The cost of the project rose from early estimates since its creation in 2010 as the result of additional studies, increased public outreach and a large increase in the overall cost of construction, the NCDOT said. In a news release it issued Friday, the agency praised the project.

The project complies with the NCDOT Complete Streets Policy and will improve mobility and safety on the 1.1-mile road between Greenville Highway and Spartanburg Highway, the DOT said.

“We are delighted to start a wonderful project that will improve the lives of residents in Hendersonville, Flat Rock, and Henderson County while also improving the travel experience for visitors to the beautiful area,” NCDOT Division 14 Engineer Wanda Austin said. “We have worked with a multitude of stakeholders on the municipal, local and state levels for more than 10 years to reach this stage of the project.”

Utility crews are currently in the area relocating overhead power lines ahead of the construction start this fall. Construction is expected to be substantially complete by Sept. 15, 2023, according to the contract. Highlights of the project – parts of which are in the city of Hendersonville, the Village of Flat Rock and unincorporated Henderson County – include:

  • New left turn lanes at Highland Lake Drive, Highland Park Drive and into the Park at Flat Rock
  • An extended right turn into CVS near Quail Cove Lane
  • Wider shoulders and larger turn radius onto North Highland Lake Road
  • A rock form liner for the King Creek culvert
  • Custom colors and paint for concrete, guard rails and signal poles
  • Landscaping at the intersection of N.C. 225 including evergreens
  • A new sidewalk connection within the City of Hendersonville
  • Relocation of the existing multi-use trail within the Village Park
  • Improved railroad crossing

The road will have 11-foot wide lanes from N.C. 225 to an area that the Village Council had once identified for a new entrance into the park, 14-foot-wide lanes from the park to Quail Cove Lane and 11-foot wide lanes from Quail Cove Lane to U.S. 176. The plans include a 10-foot berm to accommodate future pedestrian facilities without future impacts. The project has no impact on historic districts, according to the State Historic Preservation Office. The current Village Council has postponed action on a new park entrance. The council also opposes a paved bicycle-pedestrian greenway, causing the DOT to change the planned trail to a berm.

Traffic crash analysis showed 91 crashes from 2011-16, and 103 crashes from 2014-19. The improvements will reduce the crash rate.

“This project will have long-lasting benefits for Hendersonville, the Village and the Henderson County,” Austin said. “The collaboration and the extensive public involvement has produced a project that is context sensitive, yet meeting the broader needs of all users of North Highland Lake Road."