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MILLS RIVER ENDORSES 5-LANE WIDENING OF 191

NCDOT Division 14 engineer Brian Burch describes N.C. 191 widening project. NCDOT Division 14 engineer Brian Burch describes N.C. 191 widening project.

MILLS RIVER — The Mills River Town Council on Thursday endorsed a 5-lane widening of N.C. 191 from N.C. 280 to Mountain Road, the first endorsement of a major road improvement in an anti-roadwork environment that has shot down or jeopardized other transportation improvement projects.

The council voted 4-1 for the 5-lane after eight residents, sheered on by a room full of opponents, implored the town to tell the NCDOT that it did not want the 5-lane widening. The council's vote endorsed the five 12-foot lanes plus 5-foot bike paths on either side, although details of the bike paths have not been finalized. Council members had asked for a three-lane widening instead over the past several months but when DOT engineers came back and said that version was inadequate for the design year — 2040 — the council endorsed the wider project.

The NCDOT made a concession to the council who said they worried about tractor trailers, farm tractors and emergency vehicles having to use bulb-outs for U-turns. Engineers preferred a four-lane project with a grass median; instead, the agency relented and agreed to a continuous center turn lane.

Around 60 people left the meeting room in an angry mood. "You should be ashamed," one of them shouted at council members.

The Balfour Parkway effect has emboldened opponents. Pointing out that the Henderson County Board of Commissioners effectively pulled the $160 million Hendersonville bypass from the State Transportation Improvement Plan, road project opponents are urging town boards across the county to follow that example and just say no to DOT projects that disrupt neighborhoods and take property.

"I agree 191 needs improvement but not to extent you destroy the way of life of this part of the world," Mills River resident and Planning Board member Jim Foster said. "You’ll be looking at another Four Seasons Boulevard in just a few short years. Someone said if we don’t four lane 191 it will be a nightmare. I’m here to tell you what a real nightmare would be if we start looking out across trhis valley and it starts looking like Asheville."

"Everyone I have spoken to — and I have spoken to hundreds and hundreds of people — is against this project," said Georgia Hudson, who lives in Mills River Village on N.C. 191. "I see that you really want this project because it doesn't do anything to you. Maybe it gets yur kid out of school 5 minutes faster but that’s all. You are destroying the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people and you don’t care. There is solid opposition against this project. Listen to the people who voted you in and can change their vote."

Only one resident, Ken Stephenson, spoke in favor of the project, reminding the council members what happened when opponents blocked the I-26 widening 15 years ago.

"Several years ago it was recommended that we 6-lane I-26," he said. "A few people and a judge stopped it. Now everyone’s begging for it. What’s going to happen in the next 15 years? We cannot stop growth, regardless. It’s going to happen.”

Councilman Roger Snyder, who cast the only no vote, said the public input process seemed to give insufficient weight to the opposition of affected property owners. He led the effort for a scaled-back three-lane widening and said he could not support a project more disruptive than that.

Councilman Brian Caskey pointed out that many of the vocal opponents addressing the council, including those from Haywood Knolls and leaders of the campaign to stop the Balfour Parkway, are not Mills River residents.

“You cannot walk in here and simply tell us what to do," he said. "If you think you voted me into office, you’re mistaken.”