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Speak now, before elected leaders choose road priorities

Speak now, elected leaders and transportation planners say, before the bulldozer is growling at your door.

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The trend recently is that homeowners have risen up across the county to oppose road improvements, even though the projects have been in the works for years. Crowds have jeered the Highland Lake and Kanuga road widenings, roundabouts in Laurel Park, the N.C. 191 widening and the now-dead Balfour Parkway.
The towns of Hendersonville, Mills River, Flat Rock, Laurel Park and Fletcher and the Henderson County Board of Commissioners are all being asked to rank their top road and greenway priorities in the coming weeks.
The county Transportation Advisory Committee is expected to send the overall rankings for the county to the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization — which guides state and federal road spending for the region — during its August meeting. That is just the beginning of a lengthy process that involves several stages of ranking.
The process is transparent, data-driven and collaborative, county officials said in a news release, and involves several steps. An updated state Transportation Improvement Plan is expected to come out in spring of 2021. The NCDOT asked the county to prioritize seven road projects and seven greenway projects.
“Selecting projects to submit does not mean those projects will be funded,” the county noted. “Most submitted projects are not funded. There are no definitive designs for projects at this point; projects need funding in order for comprehensive design work to begin.”

The ranking by local officials is only one part of a point system.
In 2013, the Legislature changed the law to “get the decisions out of the backroom decision-making, bring it out where everything is transparent,” Steve Williams, an NCDOT planning engineer, told the Mills River Town Council last month. “You have data that supports the project and you have local support.”
Renee Kumor, who chairs the Transportation Advisory Committee, says even though it’s early in the process, homeowners should focus now on prospective projects that may affect them.
“All the priorities you see on the various levels of construction got there over a period of time,” she said. “I believe this is the hardest thing for people to understand. The roads just don’t pop up. We’ve been planning for years and years and years to get these projects done. Our projects compete with everybody in the district and in a larger sense everybody in the state. The roads on the list got there because of a perceived need for a road or an improvement for a road and we have finally reached a point where again this year it’s time to allocate resources again for project.”
The elected bodies are urging homeowners who may be in the path of the improvements to speak now.
“We’ve tried every way we can to get people to tell us what they think” before the bulldozer is growling at their door. “We’ve learned our lesson. We’ve got to find ways to get people’s attention.”
The Mills River Town Council takes up the project list this week. The two projects on the list for Mills River are to convert the five-lane N.C. 280 to a four-lane divided highway from N.C. 191 to the Transylvania County line and a widening of Butler Bridge Road. Each town has a representative on the Transportation Advisory Committee who is supposed to bring back their board’s ranking.
“In theory they have taken this back to their board to ask their board for input and to bring that information along with whatever survey information we get,” Kumor said. “We’ve tried to make it a lot easier (for the public to see the plans and comment). I don’t know how else to get people involved. Nobody reads the paper. We’re doing our best. We have it on county website, the county newsletter and as much of the media as we can.”
Although projects must earn points based on safety, congestion and other factors, Kumor describes the competition at this point as wide open.
“It’s Miss Universe,” she said. “They’re all going to walk across the stage and see who wins.”

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To respond to the online survey visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/SPOT6. The MPO also plans to accept additional public input this winter and will post a survey in early 2020 seeking public comment on the draft Transportation Improvement Program.