From the Hendersonville Times-News Sunday paper (July 1, 2018), an op-ed by Anne Coletta:
If you take away nothing else from reading this, understand that the current countywide protests about road projects are a result of a broken process by our local governments, not by NCDOT.
Road “improvement” or “modernization” projects are identified by NCDOT when roads do not meet current standards from Raleigh. I imagine many roads in Henderson County are not up to current standards — that does not mean these roads are unsafe or in need of construction work. What moves a potential road project up the to-do list is authorization from the local governmental body: county, city, town or village.
And this is where the process breaks down. An example is the North Highland Lake Road project (NCDOT U-5887).
In 2011, NCDOT identified North Highland Lake Road (SR 1783) as not up to current standards. In 2014, the road was submitted for ranking in the NCDOT system. On its ranking summary sheet, the question “Does project [to ‘modernize roadway’] upgrade how the roadway functions?” was answered “No” by NCDOT.
At the August 2015 Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting, a former Village of Flat Rock council member, who served as the council’s liaison on transportation committees, “began the discussion [of the NCDOT SPOT 4.0 database] with suggesting the Village of Flat Rock supported project H090901 [Little River Road] and H111093 [North Highland Lake Road] for reprioritization” (from TAC minutes).
As a Flat Rock village council member at the time (December 2013 to December 2017), I did not know about, discuss or support either of these projects. In researching the history of the North Highland Lake Road project, I reviewed all Flat Rock council agenda meeting and council meeting minutes from Dec. 12, 2013, (when I joined the council) to Dec. 10, 2015, and found no mention of that project being presented to the council for discussion or support.
We as a council did not have the opportunity to debate the merits of this project at an earlier date with the knowledge that it was not required by NCDOT or the French Broad River MPO, but was by village request and could be canceled by the council.
In other words, we did not support the project for “reprioritization” because we did not know about it. Yet one council member, without notifying the rest of the council, was able to allocate $2.7 million in taxpayer dollars for an unnecessary road project, affecting a place of worship, several businesses, historic properties and numerous homes as well as one of the scenic gateways into the village.
Consequently, when NCDOT notified the village council in January 2016 that this project had been approved, most council members thought this was a project coming down from NCDOT and that the village had no authority to cancel it. While some members were concerned and pushed back against the plans presented to the council in June 2017, it wasn’t until October 2017 that all members understood that this project came through our own village council.
This is a broken process.
NCDOT says it is committed to a more bottom-up approach in deciding which road projects to move forward. Unfortunately, that is not happening at the county or local level. The “bottom” are elected officials who have not necessarily taken these projects back to their communities or their governing bodies before “prioritizing” them to move up the list for funding and construction.
Without assurances that potential projects have been publicized (and that means more than just mentioned at a few council or committee meetings), discussed by a broad section of residents as well as elected officials, and scrutinized as to the total impact on the community, Henderson County citizens will continue to protest as they learn about these projects after the projects have been selected and funded, and NCDOT has already spent taxpayer money developing plans with little to no input.
Anne Coletta, former Flat Rock village council member, is a founding member of the Cultural Landscape Group: Flat Rock (CLGflatrock.org), a group dedicated to preserving the cultural landscape of Flat Rock in a way that reflects the character and history of the area.