Road project priorities change quickly

Jun 24, 2014

The process of getting state road projects funded in North Carolina is a long and tedious one. And once a project gets funded, it could be another 10 years before the project is completed.

While we understand the need to plan long-term and to prioritize projects, the state process is not keeping up with the fast paced changes in transportation needs. There are two recent examples of this in Haywood County — the Howell Mill Road project and the N.C. 209 and U.S. 23/74 interchange in Clyde.

These spots were the most congested in the county several years ago when we applied to have them studied by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, but now that they are finally under construction, the congestion has already naturally shifted to other areas.

The Howell Mill Road widening project was a solution to the congestion on Russ Avenue — caused by the traffic at Ingles, Goody’s and Belk. Well, now Belk has moved to South Main Street and Goody’s is closed. Since the congestion has lessened, many are questioning why the project is still being done.

The traffic on N.C. 209 and Paragon Parkway in Clyde, known as “malfunction junction,” is now gone because Walmart also moved to South Main Street in Waynesville. The road-widening project there has forced several businesses to close or relocate and now the intersection barely has any traffic. But the money for the $25 million project has already been allocated and is moving forward. The $11 million Howell Mill Road project also is under construction. That is a lot of money to spend on something that might no longer be needed.

Congestion is now starting to be an issue on South Main Street since Walmart, PetSmart, Belk, Michael’s and other new retailers have opened to that end of town. Making a left turn can prove difficult from 3 to 5 p.m. and more turning lanes would prove helpful.

The town of Waynesville agreed, which is why the town approved a redevelopment plan for South Main Street and submitted it to the NCDOT. However, the project hasn’t even been funded yet, meaning it probably won’t even be on the horizon for another 10 years. Who knows what that corridor will look like a decade from now.

We must find a better and faster way to address our transportation and road improvement projects.

We know these types of projects take a long time to plan and execute, but it would be more productive if the NCDOT could explore several options and have the ability to change course if needs change. With a limited state budget, we can’t afford to spend money on projects that don’t meet the current needs.