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The Top 10, No. 1: The war of the roads

Homeowners demonstrated against the Balfour Parkway in April 2018. Homeowners demonstrated against the Balfour Parkway in April 2018.

A proposed Highland Lake Road project turned the usually sedate Flat Rock Village Council meetings into jam-packed public forums filled with project opponents.

At Laurel Park, Hendersonville and Mills River council meetings, residents turned out to oppose roundabouts on U.S. 64, Kanuga Road work, a White Street widening and an N.C. 191 five-lane project. But nowhere was the opposition broader and more energetic than on the Balfour Parkway, a proposed $160 million bypass from U.S. 64 East to I-26, Asheville Highway and N.C. 191. NCDOT engineers and consultants appeared to be overwhelmed when more than 700 people wedged into an undersized meeting room at the Cascades Resort on Feb. 27. The turnout portended a rocky road for the proposed bypass, which had been on the county’s wish list for almost 20 years. Homeowners rallied on the Historic Courthouse Plaza, compiled studies, maps and reports, challenged the engineers’ traffic projections and filled the county commission meeting room to voice their opposition. County commissioners heard from hundreds of residents who opposed the roadway, expressing concern about where they’d live if the project took their homes and casting doubt on the need for a four-lane divided thoroughfare. On May 8 the board voted 4-1 to kill the parkway, with Commissioner Bill Lapsley voting no on the motion. The French Broad MPO and the state Board of Transportation followed suit, killing the plan. Jack Debman, a state Transportation Board from Cullowhee, said the county’s action short-circuited a process that could have produced a less disruptive path. “We had five squiggly lines on a map and people went crazy,” Debman said. “When you’re so new into a project and the time frame it takes to put another project in place I just don’t think the public understands that part. We didn’t get that option and we’re back another eight to 10 years before we’re back with another option and it might not be as good as what we could have come up with this time. … I’m just glad I don’t live in Henderson County.”