September: DOT Division Engineer Ron Watson announces plans “for a feasibility study on a South Sylva Loop, coming from U.S. 441 to N.C. 107, as well as from U.S. 74 to N.C. 107.”
February: Gov. Mike Easley appoints Jackson County Commissioner Conrad Burrell to the State Board of Transportation. Noting expected enrollment increases at Western Carolina University, Burrell supports building a bypass, the Southern Loop.
The Smart Roads Alliance forms to combat the proposed four-lane highway.
A DOT study says the Southern Loop should be a four-lane divided highway with a 22-foot median utilizing a concrete median barrier. The basic right-of-way would be 300 feet, but range up to 1,400 feet.
July: Two potential routes are identified for the proposed Sylva-Dillsboro Southern Loop. A northern alternate would run from roughly Mockingbird Lane on U.S. 23/441 south of Dillsboro, cross N.C. 107 just south of Cope Creek Road and intersect U.S. 23/74 east of Sylva near Blanton Branch. The southern alternate would leave U.S. 23/441 near Cagle Branch Road, cross N.C. 107 near South River Road and intersect with U.S. 23/74 near Blanton Branch.
November: Commissioners send DOT a resolution calling for a comprehensive traffic study of the N.C. 107 corridor from Dillsboro to Cullowhee.
May: Planning begins for the bypass, with state officials earmarking $7 million for the project in the year 2013 for right of way acquisition for the eastern leg of the highway, or the U.S. 23/74 to N.C. 107 link.
December: Downtown Sylva Association members unanimously oppose the Southern Loop. The group says a bypass would harm downtown Sylva merchants.
April: DOT eliminates half of the proposed Southern Loop project, the portion through Webster from N.C. 107 to U.S. 441. DOT downgrades the remaining portion, from U.S. 23/74 to N.C. 107, from “multi-lane freeway” to “roadway.”
April 2009: Pam Cook, a coordinator with DOT’s transportation planning branch, says computer modeling through 2035 indicates a connector would not solve congestion issues along N.C. 107 in Sylva. “A lot of traffic … is not trying to go to N.C. 107 south,” she said. “They’re wanting to go to Walmart, Lowe’s and other places along that corridor.”
December: Commissioners vote 3-2 to accept a proposed comprehensive transportation plan for Jackson County that includes the proposed connector. In voting “no,” then-Commissioner William Shelton says, “when you look at the cost versus the net benefit, I think it would be cheaper to move Walmart and Lowe’s than it would be to build this connector.”
April: Following a change in board membership, commissioners rank the N.C. 107 connector project low on their priority lists. Then-Chairman Jack Debnam says the state’s process for making road decisions doesn’t make sense. “You’re coming to five commissioners who have no experience whatsoever in planning and putting this burden on our shoulders … I think this whole system is just a way for the DOT to throw the burden on us and then not have to take any flack about it.”
May: A regional planning group for DOT ranks N.C. 107 as the highest-priority project in Jackson, Graham, Swain, Macon, Clay and Cherokee counties.
March: Transportation officials rank improvements to existing N.C. 107 – and construction of a connector – near the top of the state tier mobility list.
December: A new community-based N.C. 107 corridor study urges the DOT to minimize impacts to surrounding businesses.
July: DOT responds to the study, agreeing it’s “feasible to design the project with a reduced footprint while still improving the flow of traffic along N.C. 107.” The DOT announces agency plans to “evaluate how well the improvements fix congestion and mobility before deciding whether there is need to further study the N.C. 107 connector.”
February: Commissioners, still not convinced the N.C. 107 connector is off the table, schedule a public hearing and announce plans to officially strike the project from the county transportation plan.
DOT sends letters to property owners informing them they can expect engineers, surveyors and geologists on their land, determining a bypass location and design. The agency later apologizes to the community, blaming an “internal error,” and reiterates the connector is not being studied.
March: Following assurances from DOT leadership the connector is truly off the planning list, commissioners cancel the public hearing. “It now appears our focus should be toward working with DOT on the region’s top transportation project — improving the existing 107,” Chairman Debnam says.
July: Improving N.C. 107 in Sylva tops a list of proposed road-building projects in the region in a list compiled by the Rural Planning Organization, a group made up of elected and appointed government leaders from the state’s seven westernmost counties. Making boulevard-type improvements to the existing portion of N.C. 107 in Sylva, including a median and improvements to intersections, is estimated to cost $21.3 million.
March: Gov. Pat McCrory appoints former county Chairman Debnam to the State Board of Transportation. Debnam says the connector is truly “off the table. Everyone out there can breathe a little easier.”
May: Through the state public records law, the Herald obtains a DOT document indicating as many as 55 businesses along N.C. 107 and U.S. 23 Business could be affected as part of the planned remodel.
June 26: About 50 people attend a newly re-formed Smart Roads Alliance meeting to discuss plans to reconfigure N.C. 107 in Sylva. Lawyer Jay Coward says “the goal will be to recreate the Smart Roads Alliance, to prepare to actively oppose the ‘improvements’ to Highway 107, and to stop the DOT, just like we did with the Southern Loop.”