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DOT to scale back Kanuga widening

Elected officials from Hendersonville, Flat Rock and Henderson County said they were encouraged at the willingness of the top NCDOT engineer for the county to take a look at numerous compromises in response to residents’ opposition to the Kanuga and Highland Lake road widening projects.

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County Commissioner Bill Lapsley, Hendersonville City Councilman Steve Caraker and Flat Rock Village Councilman John Dockendorf met on Thursday with Brian Burch, the acting top engineer for Division 14, which includes Henderson County.

The Kanuga Road project, a $20 million improvement from Church Street to Little River Road, would expand the road to as wide as 64 feet — from Hebron Road to Erkwood Road — counting a 5-foot sidewalk, a 4-foot bike lane and 11-foot center turn lane. Residents along Kanuga have filled meeting rooms and NCDOT public input sessions to oppose the project, saying it would take down too many trees, threaten rock walls that line parts of the road and destroy large chunks of homeowners’ front yards.

“Basically, we kept negotiating and negotiating and they kept giving and giving so the right of way has shrunk 20-feet overall going out,” Caraker said. “Lapsley and Dockendorf and I are going to invite the ‘anti’ leaders to a meeting and show them what we’ve done. We’ve done everything we can do to save every rock wall, every significant tree. We’ve got turn lanes put in where we need them at Crooked Creek and places that have heavier traffic.

“We’ve pretty much eliminated bike and sidewalks all the way out to save property. I talked to Joe Sanders (of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club). His group does not think Kanuga’s a bike-friendly place anyhow. That made that easy.” (Most bicyclists use lightly traveled Old Kanuga Road, which runs parallel to Kanuga to ride south.)

Although Lapsley was slightly less confident that the NCDOT would be able to reduce the impact in the way residents hope, he agreed the officials made progress with the NCDOT engineer.

“We’re working on it,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx. We’re keeping it low profile at the moment. I’m encouraged. We got three elected officials working with DOT trying to come up with a way to adjust the project to meet the public concerns and also have a safe road.”

All three elected officials are on the county Transportation Advisory Committee, representing the boards they serve on, and Lapsley is chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets highway improvement priorities. The part of the road in the city had the widest footprint, including 5-foot sidewalks, 4-foot bike lanes and 2½-foot curb and gutter.

“We made a lot of progress in a very short period of time,” Caraker said. “We went over section by section what we’d like to see happen. They’re going to do 11-foot wide lanes with a turn lane. Instead of putting in regular curb-and-gutter they’re going to do a rollover curb and gutter that if you need to you can travel with your two wheels and get around somebody. I was very very encouraged. It was probably the most worthwhile two hours I’ve spent with local government and DOT in a long long time.”

The narrower roadway also greatly reduces the number of power poles Duke Energy will have to move, he said.

Dockendorf met with Burch on Wednesday about the Highland Lake Road widening project and on Thursday about Kanuga.

“We went over and looked at all the possible compromises and I feel like we were able to come up with compromises that will keep the residents happy,” he said of the Kanuga project. “Well, who are we to say the residents will be happy? Some won’t be. But I feel like we moved the needle significantly in the residents’ direction.”

As for Highland Lake Road, Dockendorf said Burch was similarly open to changes that will reduce the impact. That project, too, has triggered intense opposition from residents, park users and Historic Flat Rock members. Dockendorf, Rick Merrill, of Historic Flat Rock, and the Rev. Rhett Carson, minister at Pinecrest Presbyterian Church, met with Burch.

“The big takeaway from that is I feel like the process is working exactly like it’s supposed to be,” he said. “From a lot of the residents the perception the bulldozers are circling. To quote Brian Burch, if you look from getting on the SPOT (the DOT construction list) to the bulldozers, we’re 25 percent there.”

Residents complain they weren’t consulted, Dockendorf said, but that’s what is happening now. The DOT’s view, he said, is “we’re not circling the barn. We’re taking your ideas and we’re going back to the drawing board.”

Carson was able to show Burch the church’s objections, which include losing its septic tank, parking and a line of evergreens that serves as a sound and sight buffer.

“Protecting the church is a huge priority of every single member of the Flat Rock council,” he said. “They’re an integral part of Flat Rock. They serve an incredibly important spiritual purpose to the people of Flat Rock and the community. They’re really good people there and we want to make sure they’re protected. But at the same time we’ve got to make sure that the 225 intersection is safe.”

“We represented to DOT our concerns,” he said. “We’re advocating for primarily a smaller footprint. We’re working towards a compromise that will minimize the impact.”

“We asked them to come up with a design with a 10-foot (greenway) plan and without the 10-foot plan,” he said. “We’re looking at reducing the need for retaining walls and going back to a guardrail but a much more attractive guardrail than what we have now.”