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Transportation advisers endorse Highland Lake Road project

Residents expressed views for and against the Highland Lake Road project at the Transportation Advisory Committee meeting on Monday. Residents expressed views for and against the Highland Lake Road project at the Transportation Advisory Committee meeting on Monday.

Another day brought another overflow crowd to debate the fate of Highland Lake Road but this time a board made up of local officials voted 8-1 to keep the project alive.

 

The Henderson County Transportation Advisory Board took up the road project during a special meeting on Monday after the Flat Rock Village Council adopted a resolution two weeks earlier calling for the NCDOT to cancel it.
With the room packed with residents ready to speak for and against the project, TAC chair Beau Waddell explained that the advisory body’s role is to evaluate road projects countywide and make a recommendation to the county commissioners.
“They are not bound by anything that we decide,” he said. “We advise them. We serve at their pleasure.”
The TAC is made up of 11 members — two from Henderson County, one from each municipality, plus four at large.
“Our charge is to recommend those up or down based on the entire county’s needs,” he said. “The municipal folks here, their charge is to bring the will of their people to the committee.”
The TAC, he said, had taken up the Highland Lake Road project 11 times in past four years in informal and formal public comment type settings. “This project is not a surprise. We’ve talked about it at various times over that time period.” In emails to the TAC before the meeting, 21 people supported the project and 13 opposed it, he said. Of the 27 that spoke, 14 supported the project and 13 opposed it. He then opened the floor to the speakers who had signed up.
Here is a sampling of comments:
• Ginger Brown, former council member who was defeated by Anne Coletta in the Nov. 5 election: “These improvement are beneficial to the long-term safety of Henderson County residents who will be using the road. We have opportunity to address the safety and congestion right now and we should take advantage of that opportunity now,” she said.
• Sheryl Jamerson, current Flat Rock council member: After two years of negotiation, the Village Council “told DOT to go ahead. They relied on our community and have spent over a $1 million to this point. For this reason I don’t think it’s a good idea to abandon it.”
• Bruce Holliday: “The project has importance not just for the people sitting in this room today but for subsequent generations who will live, work and visit Henderson County. As a taxpayer I ask you not to turn your back on $1 million invested in this road.”
• Phillip Green: “My feeling is that Henderson County and Hendersonville, who have safety issues at the eastern edge of the project, have every right in the world and should make every improvement they wish to make on Highland Lake Road… Having our land seized by eminent domain is reprehensible.”
• Mark Morse, Laurel Park resident for 30 years, retired CEO of Selee: “I am a taxpayer in North Carolina and this is my home. As a resident of Henderson County, I’m very concerned we’re considering walking away from $1 million that has been spent. As a taxpayer I don’t want to see that money thrown down the drain.”
• Georgia Bonesteel: “For safety, the road has been declared safe. The need is not there. To widen and straighten this road will only mean faster and faster vehicles. I’m not sure we want that.”
• Ed Tiles, past president of Blue Ridge Bicycle Club. Candidates opposed to the project were 3 for 3 in winning the council election. “They ran on one platform and one part of the platform was the same. We are opposed to the project and we want to see it ended.”
• Ken Shelton, a physician and bicycle and exercise advocate: “When will the resistance to road project effective construction projects inhibit our economic development of all of Henderson County? For the silent majority we have reached that point. Road improvements are always disruptive but they are needed for economic growth.”

Gary German, a Flat Rock resident: "This past election was a one-issue campaign and the people of Flat Rock spke overwhelmingly against the project on Highland Lake Road. This was the first public referendum that was given to people where people had the opportunity to voice their opionon in a way that mattered." The greenway through the park is intended to spawn more greenways."We don’t want it."

During discussion of Flat Rock’s request, TAC members asked Coletta whether the new council majority opposes the wider shoulder, left turn lanes, sidewalks and a paved greenway, and a new park entrance. It does, she said, because the council wants the state to cancel the project. A greenway leading to a sidewalk leading to Greenville Highway is pointless because Flat Rock landowners won’t allow a public pathway through private property.
“Right now, it’s a sidewalk to nowhere,” Coletta said. “We have a feasibility study that was looking at that connection. We actually had a meeting with them this morning. Based on what they have looked at … that is not going to be happening anytime soon. We haven’t taken a formal vote but informally the council has said we do not want to take any property by eminent domain for greenways or bike paths … so it truly is a path to nowhere.”
She added: “Greenways and bike paths are kind of a big thing now but every doesn’t have to have every single thing. It is much harder to go into especially a historic area and to say you have to start putting in greenways and bike paths. Our election was a referendum on this road. Not everyone agrees with us obviously. It was a strong turnout.”

Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said the current traffic count of 6,700 vehicles per day called for 14-foot travel lanes. Based on opposition to a wider road, the engineers kept the lane width at 11 feet and added a two-foot shoulder on the south side. (The traffic count also called for a 4-foot shoulder, he said.)
“The primary purpose was to increase lane width and also to increase the bicycle and pedestrian connectivity, which we’re doing,” he said.
After Coletta made a motion to support the Village Council’s request to oppose the project, TAC board members George Banta of Laurel Park, Jennifer Hensley of Hendersonville and Brian Caskey of Mills River all spoke against it. The TAC defeated the motion 8-1 with only Coletta voting yes.
Caskey said Mills River has plenty of safety projects it would have liked to see funded with the amount spent on the Flat Rock project.
“I think we’re setting a very bad precedent in killing these projects,” he said.

The question goes next to the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, which is scheduled to hear an update on Highland Lake Road from Commissioner Bill Lapsley on Wednesday morning.