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NCDOT pitches fix for HHS traffic pattern

Work is under way on the $60 million project to renovate the existing Stillwell building and add new buildings to the Hendersonville High School campus. Work is under way on the $60 million project to renovate the existing Stillwell building and add new buildings to the Hendersonville High School campus.

No one seems to have a problem any longer with the renovation and construction plans for a new Hendersonville High School, the subject of three years of political conflict. But it’s a different matter when it comes to the traffic patterns serving the school.

The Hendersonville City Council issued a final blessing for the Hendersonville High School renovation and construction on Thursday night, voting unanimously to rezone the campus to allow the $60 million project.
The unanimous vote was in stark contrast to the drama 2½ years ago, when the City Council and Board of Commissioners were sharply divided over the plans and the council itself narrowly approved a rezoning in a split vote.
Endorsed by the school’s faculty, alumni and students, the new plan continues to use the historic classroom building and auditorium that is the setting for the school’s most hallowed traditions, adds a new classroom building and practice gym and replaces the band room, cafeteria and vocational-ed building. The Board of Commissioners has committed informally to funding artificial turf at Dietz Field and replacing the track.
A public hearing and later City Council discussion of the rezoning request on Thursday were dominated by concerns over pedestrian safety and how traffic would move around school campus. The only high school in the county in an urban setting, HHS presents unique challenges. It’s landlocked. It is served by on-street parking. It’s next to the Five Points intersection that the council, later in the same meeting, ranked as the traffic headache most in need of fixing.
City Council members agreed with residents who implored them to demand changes to the traffic pattern and pedestrian crosswalks around the school. A solution is in the works, Lonnie Watkins, the top NCDOT engineer in Henderson County, told the council. NCDOT traffic engineers in Raleigh are looking at changes that would alleviate most of the concerns the residents highlighted, including adding a traffic signal for access into the main parking lot and making pedestrian crossings safe.
“There are sidewalks all around the entire campus,” Watkins said. “There will be when it’s completed full pedestrian access at every major intersection. There will be crosswalks and push buttons so the pedestrians will be able to cross safely.”
Residents who commented during the zoning hearing, including two from Hyman Heights, based their complaints on drawings the architectural firm has provided, showing a right-in and right-out only parking entrance from Church Street. More recently, architects have submitted a driveway permit application.
“This is where it gets down to the nitty-gritty of what’s going to actual take place because the TIA (traffic impact analysis) is basically recommendations,” he said. Engineers now want to require the driveway into the school parking lot to shift to the north so it lines up with North Main Street. Preliminary results of the engineering study “show that there will actually be about five benefits from shifting that driveway up and incorporating that into the signal. It would provide safer pedestrian crossing because we could coordinate the vehicular traffic with the pedestrian traffic and it will be less signal phases for reduced delay times and much shorter clearance time as you get through the intersection. By shifting it up further north, it consolidates it and brings it together. The last benefit, as has been mentioned, the traffic going north on 25 wouldn’t have to circle the school (using Bearcat Boulevard, Oakland Street and Asheville Highway) to enter. They could just come into that intersection and make a left directly into the school.”
NCDOT engineers have talked to engineers that completed the traffic impact analysis and engineers with the HHS architectural design team. “And we’re all in agreement that that would be the best solution,” he said. “That’s what we’re leaning heavily toward.”
The NCDOT already has plans for a project affecting Five Points. The project adds a right turn lane from North Main onto Asheville Highway. But Five Points, Watkins cautioned, has a multitude of problems that need fixing.
“We all know that there are traffic issues out there,” he said. “The purpose of the improvements we want to make at the school can’t address all those problems we have out there. That’s a bigger task for DOT and the city to tackle.”
When Councilman Jerry Smith asked how the public could comment on or ask questions about the traffic pattern and proposed improvements, Watkins said people could make an appointment or come visit at the NCDOT office at 4142 Haywood Road in Mills River.
“We can sit down and discuss any items that we have not addressed,” he said.