WaysSouth, a regional nonprofit organization working to protect the unique heritage and environment of the Southern Appalachians by promoting sustainable transportation practices, commends the North Carolina Department of Transportation for the final proposal put forward for the Corridor K highway expansion project. For decades, local needs to improve safety and reliability were held hostage to the idea of an unneeded, destructive, and prohibitively expensive highway. By working with all stakeholders, including WaysSouth for which this project has been a high priority, the Department has now arrived at an excellent design that is both economically and environmentally sound.
The proposal outlined in the Final Decision Notice and Environmental Assessment is good for our communities and businesses. The project will improve the flow of traffic by widening the existing highway and adding strategically placed passing lanes so that only a minimal segment will have to accommodate four lanes. The new design should cut response times for ambulances, fire trucks and police by improving the Highway 143 route from Stecoah Valley to Robbinsville. It avoids unneeded impacts to residential communities, including Stecoah Heights. And it brings sidewalks to Robbinsville and a new greenway to Stecoah.
The Department of Transportation listened to stakeholders when environmental concerns were raised and balanced these community improvements with environmental stewardship by reducing the overall footprint of the road project and adding in some much-needed wildlife and recreation infrastructure. Most importantly, the department dropped plans for carving a new four-lane highway through intact forests and steep mountains, instead making dramatic improvements to an existing corridor.
The new Corridor K project will totally encapsulate acid-producing rock where necessary to protect local streams, rivers, lakes and aquatic ecosystems. The project also includes a new land bridge, initially proposed by WaysSouth, over the four-laned segment at Stecoah Gap. By creating a land bridge overpass above the highway, the critical wildlife corridor through the mountain pass will actually function better for wildlife than before the improvements. This overpass design also better preserves scenic views as well as the character and hiking experience of the Appalachian Trail.
It took a long process to get here, but the North Carolina Department of Transportation should be recognized for listening to the concerns of local residents and businesses, implementing a collaborative and transparent process with all stakeholders, and coming back with a proposal that incorporates many of the best design ideas put forth by WaysSouth and the community.
From our experience, this was not business as usual for the state’s transportation planners. Department staff and their planning and design consultants deserve high praise for their creative and collaborative approach. Our hope is that this serves as a model for future highway and road improvement projects.
Melanie Mayes, Chair, Oak Ridge, TN
Axel Ringe, Vice-Chair & Treasurer, New Market, TN
Clyde Holler, Secretary, Morganton, GA
David Bacon, Clarkesville, GA
Sam Evans, Asheville, NC
Bob Gale, Asheville, NC
Hugh Irwin, Black Mountain, NC
Don McGowan, Canton, NC
Callie Moore, Hayesville, NC