A few years back, a couple living on Evans Road moved to Thomas Valley between Barkers Creek and Whittier.
They believed that R-5000, the new stretch of pavement from N.C. 116 to N.C. 107, is a precursor building block in a longterm scheme to build a connector road from N.C. 107 to U.S. 74.
If built, the connector (once called the Southern Loop) would destroy this couple’s home and farm. They moved. They couldn’t bear to work land they’d eventually lose.
I didn’t laugh at these people’s fears. I did, however, conclude they were weaving disparate threads into a quilt of conspiracy.
I knew better. Transportation officials told me, repeatedly, on the record and off the record, there is no link between the connector road and R-5000.
A couple of months ago, I attended a steering-committee information session for the Jackson County Land Use and Comprehensive Transportation Plan. Members’ recommendations will require Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ approval.
At the session, looking at maps, I realized the connector-road issue has boomeranged. The maps showed a future connector between N.C. 107 and U.S. 74. There’s a line on some of the imaginings – a prospective highway – starting at the entrance of Evans Road and extending to U.S. 74.
Officials chattered at me about traffic modalities and such. The placement at Evans Road? Coincidence. The lines on the maps? They don’t mean anything; they are renderings drawn at random by random engineers in some random department on a random street in Raleigh.
Here’s the deal: Wednesday, Feb. 8, after press time, members of the steering committee planned to vote on putting the connector road back into play.
I can almost guarantee the vote was “yes,” based on discussions at the group’s meeting last month. If commissioners agree, the project gains momentum – not a certainty, by any means, but a living, breathing, Department of Transportation option.
Why is this a personal column rather than a news story?
I live on property that, depending on where the line is drawn, could be plowed under and paved.
I do not own this property. There is no direct conflict of interest.
Building the connector road would take years. By then, I might live in some other community. If still here, I’d likely be too old to care.
Still, I am uncomfortable writing editorials or news stories on the connector road.
Since the committee’s meeting last month, I’ve struggled. I’ve concluded that I cannot be certain that I’m free of conflicts; not so much because of where I live, but because I feel duped.
Anger? That emotion, if it’s anger I am indeed feeling – not just frustration over the deception, a downright healthy reporter reaction – disallows me from writing either stories or editorials about the connector, based on my code of ethics.
In the future, someone else at this newspaper will cover the issue, not me, though I might write personal columns such as this one.
A connector would remove between 5,000 and 9,000 cars a day from N.C. 107, according to DOT officials. It would not solve the problem of congestion; it might alleviate the situation.
Some business owners maintain that removing traffic from N.C. 107 from Cullowhee could harm Sylva businesses.
The question is this: Is alleviating, but not resolving traffic issues (and possibly harming Sylva) worth destroying miles of forest land and residents’ private property?
I say “no.” But now you understand that this is one person’s dissent, my opinion, nothing more.
It’s possible the passion to resist this road no longer exists. At one time, opposition leaders could turn out hundreds of residents to protest; however, these activists are older and, from what I can tell, sick of fighting the fight.
There could be residual energy I don’t know about. New people could step forward to demand hearings for property owners and those who would protect the environment.
If building this connector is part of a grand conspiracy, the conspirators might win by simply outlasting the opposition. Most likely, of course, this isn’t a conspiracy. Maybe, it’s this:
When you look at a map, drawing lines from N.C. 107 to U.S. 74 is so easy. If you ignore traffic-count reduction numbers, building the road seems an obvious solution to congestion on N.C. 107.
And yes, I do now agree with the couple who fled Evans Road. R-5000 is part of a master plan, with the connector road at the end of the conspiracy rainbow.
Quintin Ellison is editor of the Herald.