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Roundabouts, medians on drawing board for NC 191, US 64 widening jobs

One design option for widening of U.S. 64 would add roundabouts at Blythe Street (right), Laurel Park Village shopping center and Daniels Drive (left). Motorists could make U-turns at bulb-outs, shown in yellow. One design option for widening of U.S. 64 would add roundabouts at Blythe Street (right), Laurel Park Village shopping center and Daniels Drive (left). Motorists could make U-turns at bulb-outs, shown in yellow.

Planned widening projects for U.S. 64 in Laurel Park and N.C. 191 in Mills River are drawing opposition over proposed medians and roundabouts.

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An option for widening U.S. 64 through Laurel Park would add roundabouts at Blythe Street, Laurel Park Village Shopping Center and Daniels Drive and would separate traffic with a median. It’s a design that Laurel Park Mayor Carey O’Cain supports but one that some residents say will impede travel and that some business owners fear will cut their customer base in half.
Although the Mills River and Laurel Park road improvements are in the early stages, the design is under way now and the NCDOT is accepting comments from the public and elected officials.
“The roundabouts and medians I don’t think will work for commercial property owners,” said Bill McKibbin, who owns the Exxon Energy Mart, car wash and Dixie Diner on the south side of U.S. 64. “It’s also not a great option for pedestrians and cyclists.”
He has expressed his opinion to Laurel Park Town Council members and to the NCDOT. A median would cut off access for westbound traffic and take gas pumps from his Exxon station, he said. Because of the railroad tracks “we can’t go any further back than we are.”

‘Distinctive feel for Laurel Park’

The NCDOT held a public meeting on the U.S. 64 project on Nov. 10 in at Hendersonville’s City Hall and at the time had set a Nov. 24 deadline for public comments. But O’Cain has asked the NCDOT to extend the deadline for comments through the end of January. The town of Laurel Park did not even get drawings of the two options until last week, he notes. (They’re available for review now at the Laurel Park Town Hall.)
“I personally like roundabouts,” O’Cain said. “They slow traffic down yet they also keep it flowing. I know some people are opposed to it because of the inconvenience.”
A streetscape with landscaped medians “would give it a distinctive feel for Laurel Park,” O’Cain added.
That may not be enough to persuade opponents.
Troy Drake, who lives on Pisgah Drive, near the proposed roundabout at Daniel Drive, opposes the design with roundabouts and a median, called Alternative 2.
“I hope that the Laurel Park Town Council will take a position against Alternative 2 which I don’t feel is an improvement,” he said. “It’s spending a lot of money to have a two-lane road (which we already have) and the traffic circles will not address the problems of getting onto U.S. 64 from certain intersections with the steady flow of traffic on U.S. 64.”
The design “will make it difficult for some of us to enter U.S. 64 at these traffic circles plus will prevent left turns creating additional burden to customers of businesses and our community,” he said. “I hope that the Town of Laurel Park will be more concerned about the effect on the community (of encouraging traffic to flow) without stopping, which seems to be the purpose of Alternative 2.”
McKibbin also cited a report that roundabouts are unsafe for bicyclists.

Mills River opposes 17-foot median

Both Laurel Park plans and the options for widening N.C. 191 from Mountain Road to N.C. 280 include bike lanes.
Mills River Town Council member liked the bike lanes and were ambivalent about sidewalks shown in one of the examples. For one thing, the town would have to pay 20 percent of the cost of sidewalk construction.
“I just don’t see them being used right now,” Councilman Shanon Gonce said. “I think the concrete will be deteriorated before they get walked on.”
Council members strongly opposed a 4-lane highway divided by a 17-foot median.
Town Manager Jeff Wells recommended the option with 5-foot sidewalks.
“I would always be a proponent of sidewalks,” he said. “You might be surprised at the people that would use it. I can tell you once you build them people do use them, particularly in areas where you have residential areas that connect to something. My feeling is if you put sidewalks on N.C. 191 they’d be used primarily for access from these subdivisions to the park and for people that just want to walk.”
Gonce said he opposed the raised median. The extra driving to make a U-turn would add “wear and tear on people’s vehicles, taking another five minutes of people’s day up, putting them up on the highway for five more minutes and increase the chance of accident,” he said.
Wells said he would make the NCDOT aware of the council’s preference for a four-lane highway with a center turn lane, 5-foot bike lane and 10-foot sidewalk.
“It’s not at the deliverable stage at this point but it sure has the feel of something that’s going to make it,” he said. “I don’t think they’d be doing all this legwork if they weren’t planning on having the project move up a little bit in priority.”
The N.C. 191 project is in the State Transportation Improvement Plan, though not currently scheduled for construction. Design will continue through the fall of 2017 and public meetings would be held after design is finished.