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Widening Talk Top DOT official tours site

Article Published: Nov. 5, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Widening Talk Top DOT official tours site

Boone Town Council member Stephen Phillips, left, Secretary of Transportation for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Gene Conti, and Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson look out over U.S. 421 during a visit by Conti to Boone as work continues on the widening of the road on Thursday afternoon.

Photo by Mark Mitchell

Department of Transportation officials met with local elected officials and concerned residents Thursday to discuss current and future DOT projects in Boone.

During the meeting, Gene Conti, Secretary of Transportation for the N.C. Department of Transportation, told town council members the U.S. 421 widening is on schedule and the fast-track portion to service the new high school is expected to be complete by the 2010 school opening.

Conti also addressed future plans for the NCDOT.

"We are currently undertaking a total recalibration of all programs and how they [funds] are allocated," Conti said. "Under the old program, projects would be promised and not delivered."

The NCDOT plans to work more closely with local leadership to identify goals for a five-year timeframe, Conti said. Only projects that could be completed within that time would be considered after discussing priorities.

Conti touched on the issue of the Boone bypass, informally known as the Daniel Boone Parkway.

The bypass has been under discussion for several years, but is an unfunded project. The goal would be to re-direct some of the downtown traffic around Boone to reduce congestion. There are four possible routes that have been identified.

Conti said if the bypass was identified as a high priority by local officials, it could be added to the five-year program for the town.

Two people appeared at the meeting Thursday to voice concerns related to the widening of U.S. 421 currently underway.

The project began in June to widened 421 to six-lanes divided by a median from Grove Street, just east of N.C. 194, to U.S. 221/N.C. 105. The section of U.S. 421 (King Street) from U.S.

221/N.C. 105 to U.S. 321 (Hardin Street) will be four lanes divided by a concrete median. U.S. 421 (King Street) currently varies between two and five lanes.

The project is anticipated to be complete in late December 2011.

Jack Groce, of Watauga Drive, and John F. Heffren, of the Farthing Street/Chestnut Drive neighborhood, both voiced concerns about the raised concrete median, currently slated to run the entire length of the widening project.

Heffren raised questions regarding emergency vehicle access to neighborhoods.

"All emergency services, EMS, rescue, fire and police respond to the Farthing/Chestnut neighborhood from the west," Heffren said in a letter presented to Conti. "This median is designed and intended to prevent vehicles, including emergency vehicles, from crossing. This median will delay emergency response, thereby posing a life safety problem."

Groce lives on Watauga Drive, which is connected to Farthing Street and voiced similar concerns. Groce and Heffren both requested the installation of a traffic light at the Farthing Street and U.S. 421 intersection.

Heffren also suggested the median be eliminated from the project and replaced with a turning lane.

Conti said the NCDOT would investigate the issues and consequences of a median.

Following the meeting, Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson, council member Stephen Phillips, town manager Greg Young, Conti, N.C. Rep. Cullie Tarleton and other town staff traveled to U.S. 421 near New Market Centre to view the project progress. N.C. Sen. Steve Goss attended the meeting prior to the site inspection.

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