New truck turn around and information stations questioned
Macon County residents came out in full force last Thursday to ask questions and get information on proposed truck arounds and information statements heading toward Highlands.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) hosted a workshop for the purpose of soliciting public comment during the project development process, and to inform citizens of four proposed truck information stations and truck turn-around locations along US 64/ NC 28 from US-23/ 441 Franklin to NC-106 in Highlands.
According to John G. Conforti, NCDOT Group Leader for the Western Region of the Project Development and Environmental Analysis Branch, the public comment sessions were extremely beneficial for the department of transportation. "The purpose behind having workshops such as this is not only to keep citizens involved and informed, but to gather information which can help us during our planning process," said Conforti via email. "We recieved many helpful comments (and anticipate more during the next month) which we will meet to discuss internally once the comment period is over." Conforti explained how crucial public involvement is for the NCDOT and the influence they have on individual projects. "One of the sites we studied was actually suggested by a local resident earlier this year," said Conforti. "We are always open to comments and welcome input which often times can prove helpful to us during planning and design."
According to NCDOT, the public comment period for projects which directly influence individuals who live close to the proposed changes is an integral part of the project development process. Early in the stages of development, the NCDOT is accepting any and all comments, even suggestions regarding complete project alternatives. “We come to the public because they live and work here,” explained Zahid M. Baloch, Project Development Engineer for the NCDOT. “There is no better source of information on positive and negative effects of these information stations and turn arounds, then to ask the citizens of Macon County.”
The NCDOT has developed the proposed turn arounds and information station to try to make it safer for semi-trucks to use the segment of highway leading up to Highlands. Although state law currently prohibits semi-trucks from using the narrow 2-lane road because of the dangerously sharp curves and excessively steep grades, some truck drivers ignore the warning signs to take advantage of the shorter route this portion of the highway offers. Trucks often become stuck around the sharp turns or become involved in accidents while attempting to maneuver the roadway, which often results in backed up traffic and creates hazardous driving conditions for motorists using the roadway and the communities in the area.
Baloch explained that after the public comment period closes NCDOT will review all submissions and will discuss further possibilities. “Depending on the feedback we get we may only use one or two of the locations we have proposed, or we may determine that at that time it is best to explore more options and start all over again,” said Baloch.
Of the four proposed project locations, three options, two turn arounds and one pull-off ramp are located on the Franklin side of the mountain. One of the most controversial locations is the $1,355,000 truck turn around proposed for Deal Farm Circle at the intersection of U.S. 64-NC 28.
According to Franklin residents Sandra and David Dennis, the turn around would directly impact the road leading to the couple's home. “There are already safety issues in that area, people have been killed at the intersection and we already have to be very careful entering the highway,” explained Sandra. “It would be detrimental to truckers and the community if they build the spot at Deal Farm Circle because there is just no way for a huge truck to stop and make a left turn safely.”
David agreed with his wife and added, “It seems to me that rather then spending a million dollars just get the state highway patrol to give tickets with a large enough financial penalty that is makes it undesirable for cars to speed or for truckers to use that road, that should be a financial incentive for the state,” he said.
According to Conforti, the purpose of this project is to discourage truckers from using the prohibited route and to provide locations where truckers can comply with the law by turning around. "A past concern has been that a trucker couldn't turn around if he wanted to for lack of a place to do so and was forced to continue on," explained Conforti.
Ann Williams traveled from her home in Florida to attend the workshop. Williams has rental property that would be affected if the NCDOT decided to pursue the only proposed turn