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Laurel Park residents pan median, roundabouts for U.S. 64

NCDOT drawing shows U.S. 64 widening with a 17-foot median and roundabouts. NCDOT drawing shows U.S. 64 widening with a 17-foot median and roundabouts.

LAUREL PARK — U.S. 64 through Laurel Park would look much different five years from now if a widening project on the drawing board at the NCDOT comes to pass. More than 100 Laurel Park residents showed up at a public meeting Tuesday afternoon to tell state highway engineers they don't like the looks of those changes.

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NCDOT drawing shows U.S. 64 widening with a 17-foot median and roundabouts.

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The option of turning the highway into a two-lane divided road with three roundabouts between Glasgow Lane and White Pine drives drew strong opposition from residents, business owners and other landowners along the route.

The NCDOT is accepting comments on the project until Oct. 26. Right-of-way acquisition is scheduled for the summer of 2019 and a year-long construction project is scheduled to start in the summer of 2021. The plan shows roundabouts at Glasgow Lane, Pisgah Drive and White Pine Drive. Roundabouts at Blythe Street and Daniel Drive on earlier plans were eliminated. The 17-foot median would mean that residents of some neighborhoods that feed into U.S. 64 — at Broadway Street and Crystal Drive, for instance — would be unable to make left turns into or out of their street.

The three-hour informal public meeting, which had already drawn more than 100 people 20 minutes after it started, is part of a process required under state law for highway projects.

“It’s to get the opinion of the residents of the area,” said David Uchiyama, a spokesman for NCDOT. “It’s to get the opinion of people who use the road, not only as a local road, but as a throughway. These are critical to the process. We’re following that process and we enjoy this process.”

After Tuesday's meeting and after the deadline for written comments, NCDOT planners will look at the responses and consider changes, Uchiyama said.

Besides attracting people who live along the project route, the meeting also gave residents west of Laurel Park an opportunity to express their opposition to higher traffic. Residents of Hunters Crossing, Hawthorne Hills and other subdivisions in the area oppose a development in Laurel Park at the base of Davis Mountain.

"They're concerned that traffic is going to be substantially heavier because of these roundabouts," said Town Council member George Banta. "This might actually help them a little bit. Traffic circles will be traffic calming."

The Laurel Park Town Council in January voted in favor of the divided highway option with a grassy median and roundabouts in part because that option would slow traffic. The NCDOT plan calls for 5-foot bike lanes along the road in both directions, 5-foot sidewalks on both sides, a 17½-foot grass median and two 12-foot travel lanes.

The NCDOT says the $8.4 million project is needed to improve safety and traffic flow. U.S. 64 from Blythe Street to White Pine Drive carries 13,000 vehicles a day now and is projected to carry 16,300 to 19,600 in 2040. In a five-year period ending in August 2016, the road was the scene of 66 crashes, 43 percent of which were rear-end collisions, an indication of a congested roadway. The accident rate in that stretch is two times higher than average for similar roadways, the NCDOT says.

When public comment conflicts with an elected council's position, the NCDOT would try to bridge the gap, Uchiyama said.

"We'd summarize the comments, meet with the local officials and we'd all discuss the concerns that were expressed to us. 'Folks told us this, folks told council A this, folks told council B that' and then just try to gather them, talk it out and see where we go next," he said.

Public input and guidance of the project is complicated because the 1-mile stretch of U.S. 64 from Blythe Street to White Pine Drive runs through Hendersonville, Laurel Park and unincorporated Henderson County.

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For additional information contact NCDOT construction engineer Kenneth McDowell at 828.631.1172 or kjmcdowell@ncdot.gov.