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NC 191 N. widening, last I-26 segment picked as priorities

Years from now, when homeowners along N.C. 191 from N.C. 280 to Long Shoals Road demand to know the origins of a four-lane widening project, someone may refer them to a little-noticed meeting of the Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee on April 18, 2018.

The TAC, in its quarterly meeting that day, endorsed a project to widen that segment to multiple lanes — long-range plans don’t say how many — and add bicycle lanes.
The N.C. 191 project, at a projected cost of $39.8 million, was one of three projects the TAC recommended in what was a crucial but little noticed vote. Unlike the meeting rooms of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and every municipality that is home to a road improvement project, the TAC meeting is usually lightly attended. At its recent meetings, more homeowners have shown up, only to learn that they’re protesting highway priority decisions that the TAC made years ago.
Besides the N.C. 191 project, the TAC also voted unanimously to send two other projects to the top of the county’s priority list — a $9.6 million access management and intersection improvement project on N.C. 280 from Haywood Road (at the Triangle Stop) to Old Haywood Road (Ingles), and the widening of I-26 from Four Seasons Boulevard (exit 49) to the U.S. 25 Connector (exit 54), an $80 million project.
The I-26 widening was the highest priority and is the most likely to be funded when the NCDOT scores all the projects sent up by local advisory boards. The 5-mile segment is the last part left unfunded in the $700 million widening of I-26 all the way from I-240.
Ranking of road projects is guided by something called the Strategic Transportation Investments law, which the General Assembly adopted in 2013 in order to make data, and not politics, the driving factor in prioritization. Projects can receive funding from pots of money that fund statewide mobility, regional impact and division needs. The eastern-most I-26 segment is currently categorized as a statewide mobility project. But through a process the NCDOT calls “cascading” the TAC dropped it to the regional impact tier, increasing its chances of getting funded in the 2018 rankings. Projects ranked by local jurisdictions receive points in the overall scoring process; the French Broad MPO (the regional transportation planning agency) and NCDOT engineers also assign points.
“If you cascade it, it’s going to have a better chance at getting funded,” Brian Burch, the top NCDOT engineer for the division that includes Henderson County, told TAC members.
Two projects the advisers declined to endorse were a $15 million “modernization” of Greenville Highway from Spartanburg Highway to Erkwood Drive and a $36 million multi-lane widening of N.C. 191 from Asheville Highway to Mountain Road.
“This gives us a lot of heartburn,” Hendersonville City Councilman Steve Caraker said, referring to his board’s view of the N.C. 191 proposal. “It’s going to take a lot of residential property.”
Reporting on current roadwork, District Engineer Steve Cannon said the project to widen shoulders on N.C. 191 and improve safety at Rugby Middle and West Henderson High School is under way. Those orange and white barrels don’t mean that a four-lane project is coming. “We’re not adding lanes other than turn lanes at the school,” Cannon said.