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DOT stands by 4- or 5-lane widening of NC 191

MILLS RIVER — State transportation engineers are standing by their recommendation for a four-lane widening of N.C. 191 through Mills River even as homeowners continue to voice strong opposition to the plans. But in a concession to homeowners who want left turns out of their neighborhoods and farmers who oppose bulb-out U-turns a four-lane divided road would require, the top NCDOT engineer for the region said planners are open to a five-lane unobstructed design through the the town.

The N.C. 191 project is one of a half dozen major road improvements projects in Henderson County that are drawing opposition from neighboring property owners who say the projects are not needed.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the Mills River Town Council heard from Brian Burch, the NCDOT’s Division 14 engineer, who told board members that a three-lane road with a center turn lane would be unsafe and would not address the traffic N.C. 191 is expected to carry in 2040.
Engineers had not addressed specific comments that the public had made about the plans, Burch said. The only change in the plans first submitted a month ago was adding a multi-use path from the Mills River Town Park to N.C. 280. Mills River’s cost would be about $30,000, a 20 percent match required by the NCDOT policy.
The Town Council adopted a resolution opposing a four-lane divided highway and instead asked for a five-lane and three-lane roads with center turn lanes.
The council took no action, since the NCDOT has not completed its review of the comments nor made changes to the plan.
“Those traffic volumes warrant two lanes in each direction,” Burch said in defense of the four-lane divided highway option.
“All properties will have driveway access,” he said. “Most would be restricted to
Bill Erickson, a retired engineer who lives in Grimesdale and a leader of the successful campaign to kill the Balfour Parkway, urged the Mills River board to oppose the N.C. 191.
He noted that the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted two weeks ago to ask the NCDOT to drop the Balfour Parkway, that the French Broad River MPO is expected to follow suit and remove the project from the priority list and that the Mills River Town Council had adopted a resolution on April 12 opposing a divided highway.
“All of this begs the question. What will the widening of N.C. 191 accomplish without the Balfour Parkway as its southern terminus,” Erickson said. “Absent the Balfour Parkway, does the anticipated traffic volume on N.C. 191 justify a four-lane median-divided highway between Mills River and Mountain Road? In my opinion it does not.”
Council member Richmond Meadows praised the DOT engineers for making compromises and coming back with a workable plan.
“We keep looking back what happened on I-26” about 15 years ago, Meadows said. “Two people and one judge stopped it. Now we have a nightmare. I want to make sure we don’t get a nightmare in Mills River. We can get something that’s usable for all of us. It appears what y’all have on your drawing is a great step toward that. We have to look at our people down the road, our kids, grandkids and all of that. It’s hard to get people to come and talk that’s really in favor it and I know most people that are hurting are going to come out and say something.”