By Dave Russell
Pedestrians hoping to walk safely across and around N.C. 107 near Smoky Mountain High School will benefit from a Sept. 28 Walk Audit of the area.
N.C. Department of Transportation engineers, the county’s Safe Routes to School coordinator, Sylva officials and other community partners planned future connectivity for schools and other potential safety features in light of the R-5600 project that will reconfigure Sylva’s business corridor.
Currently there are approximately 28 SMHS students that cross N.C. 107 daily and at least three who ride bikes to and from Fairview Elementary School, Safe Routes to School Coordinator Jackie Moore said.
The Walk Audit was an opportunity to look at the plan and address safety issues for students and parents crossing N.C. 107 as the plans are developed, Moore said.
Jackson County Planner Michael Poston pointed out that the newly adopted Jackson County Pedestrian Plan supports connectivity to schools.
The walk audit looked at crosswalks at the following locations:
• Jones Street and N.C. 107 (the alternate bus entrance at the QP gas station).
• The intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 116 at the main high school entrance.
• The intersection of 107 and Fairview Road.
R-5600 is the N.C. Department of Transportation’s proposal for Sylva’s commercial corridor, N.C. 107, including the elimination of the center turn lane with sidewalks replaced and a 5-foot bike lane. Upgrades are slated for the N.C. 107/U.S. 23 Business intersection, and from U.S. 23 Business to Dillardtown Road and Municipal Drive, near the Sylva Fire Department.
Road plan moving forward
The R-5600 project’s right of way acquisition process started July 16, according to Senior Project Engineer Jeanette White.
“We hope to have the land purchasing needs of the project complete within two years – one full year before construction is expected to begin in July 2024,” she said. “Since the trigger date of right of way acquisition beginning in July, we have received the ROW Authorization Letter, and the Notice to Proceed, both of which authorize this lengthy process to begin.”
Following that authorization, an independent contractor, Telics, has been contracted to perform the majority of services for the land acquisition needs along the project. Most initial contacts have been made via mail to property and business owners, White said.
“Nearing the end of the two years, if not before, citizens will begin to see overhead utility lines moved back and away from the roadway by the utility companies,” she said. “Relocating the utility poles is a typical first phase of beginning a road widening project.”
Construction is expected to take 3-4 years. Currently plans are approximately 75 percent complete.
The current plans do not yet reflect the crosswalks and signal design intent. These plans will be available with upcoming design progression of the project.
Walkability is one component of complete streets design, an aim of AARP, which sponsored the walkabout.
“Complete Streets are those designed and operated for safe, comfortable and convenient travel by pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities,” said Rebecca Chaplin, associate state director, AARP Mountain Region, the sponsor of the event. “The focus of complete streets initiatives has been on changing transportation agency policies and procedures so that these multimodal accommodations become routine at the project-development stage.”