Howell Mill Road upgrade raises questions

By Brittney Champion, Mountaineer intern | Jun 23, 2014
Photo by: Brittney Champion

As construction on the road widening project on Howell Mill Road continues with a bridge construction, some are questioning whether local dollars could have been spent elsewhere.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation began construction on the  road in February. The $11.7 million project will involve widening the two-lane road to add a center turning lane, adding about 22 feet to the width of the road. The end goal is to provide more adequate lane and shoulder width and allow traffic to flow more safely and freely.

There is also a roadway bridge currently being built that will cross the railroad and Richland Creek.

"The bridge eliminates a railroad crossing, replaces an existing bridge that only crosses Richland Creek, and maintains a continuous grade for the roadway which is an improvement over the current condition," said Jordan-Ashley Baker, a communications officer for NCDOT.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said he was surprised when the project was announced several years ago. Though DOT has its own guidelines and priorities when it comes to road projects, he wonders if the money being used on Howell Mill Road could have been more useful somewhere else.

"I may not have made the same choice for expenditure of dollars in Waynesville/Haywood County, but then again, I am not privy to all of the facts and figures at the disposal of DOT," Brown said.

Another area in need of attention in Waynesville is South Main Street.

"Henry Foy and I have both asked DOT to move the South Main Street project up in priority on the TIP list to no avail," Brown said.

The project began ahead of schedule and continues to stay that way. Baker said as long as everything continues to work in their favor, they are hoping to have the major construction finished in October of 2015.

“Right now we are working to finish a year ahead of schedule like we had originally planned,” Baker said.

In the beginning the estimated completion date was October of 2016, but this has changed with the continuing progress.

Once construction has ended, NCDOT will go back and start replacing the grass and other elements that were removed for the project, which could take up to an additional six months to finish, Baker said.

“We cannot promise an exact end date,” Baker said, “But hopefully the summer will continue to be good to us and we can stay on track.”