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NC 191 widening opponents hope for a Balfour-like outcome

Opponents of the four-lane N.C. 191 widening project are hoping Henderson County commissioners take their side when the board hears from the top NCDOT engineer for the southwestern corner of the state.

Brian Burch, the Division 14 engineer, will speak to the board on Wednesday afternoon about the 4.4-mile stretch from School House Road to Mountain Road.
Opponents of the project have appeared before the board, written lengthy reports to support their views and met one-on-one with commissioners. They’re hoping for an outcome similar to Balfour Parkway, which commissioners voted to kill last May.
“I can’t predict the outcome on this project,” said Jim Price, a retired Chevron engineer who lives in Ridgeview off North Rugby road. “In meetings that I’ve had with the commissioners, I said, the people I talked to agree that you don’t end a 4-lane divided highway at Mountain Road. Given the traffic forecast for 2040, no one I talked to accepts that this is the last step. If this is built they’ll obviously be a push to extend it and connect with Highway 25, I-26 and even Highway 64. Everybody I talk to gets that. To me, it doesn’t have to go that way.”
Price and others also make the point that the NCDOT has just completed a three-lane safety improvement project to alleviate congestion at the two schools.
“In my experience as an engineer, you had your plan and then you built it but if you don’t take the time to operate it you’re not open to learning what the benefit and what the shortcomings are,” he said. Right of way acquisition is scheduled for Oct. 1, he said. “I don’t understand the rush. Why don’t they assess the pros of cons of that project and use that to go forward with whatever improvements are needed. We recognize there are transportation problems. We would like a seat at the table to discuss improvements.”
He met Monday with Commissioner Rebecca McCall and assistant schools Superintendent John Bryant heard their take on the project.
“They all have good ideas but we don’t hear those coming from DOT and that’s frustrating,” he said. “They’re missing an opportunity to come up with a better solution. We’re not opposed to change. We recognize there are issues but we’d like to see a better solution.”
Phil Rasmussen, a retired Army officer who lives in Haywood Park Estates across from Haywood Knolls, has been one of the most consistent opponents of the 4-lane project. He wrote an 11-page reported, supported by footnotes and diagrams. Among his points are that:
• A four-lane highway will drop to two lanes at Mountain Road, creating an east-bound bottleneck going into Hendersonville.
• A four-lane highway invites higher speeds and potentially dangerous conditions, especially for young drivers going to and from West Henderson High School.
• A divided highway limits fire and EMS access to subdivisions.
• Property owners along the route had no input in the planning process for the road and have had limited success getting answers from the NCDOT.
Another Ridgeview resident, Bob Coffey, presented commissioners with a petition opposing the project.
“We now have over 2,000 signatures of residents who petition you to instruct the NCDOT to abandon their current plan and to begin new planning with local input to come up with reasonable and realistic alternatives,” Coffey said, adding that the wording of the request was the same as the resolution the county used a year ago when it dropped the Balfour Parkway. “We are asking for the same ruling.”
County Commission Chair Grady Hawkins said commissioners asked for the meeting with Burch because they had not yet received a detailed update and the opportunity to ask questions. Comparing N.C. 191 to the Balfour Parkway was “apples to oranges,” he said, because “the Balfour connector was a new road that cut through existing homes" while the N.C. 191 improvement would widen an existing road.