Wilkes County commissioners on Tuesday night discussed major highway projects proposed for the county before deciding they needed more information and consideration before recommending the top priorities to the N.C. Board of Transportation.
Wilkes County Planning Director Eddie Barnes said commissioners had been asked to recommend six projects for inclusion on the state’s 2011-12 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which is state’s blueprint of major transportation plans.
In the past, said Barnes, the county was asked to submit 10 projects. He said the county wasn’t asked to recommend projects by order of priority.
He said part of one of the 10 top priorities, widening N.C. 268 East from N.C. 18 to Airport Road, had been completed and part had been funded so it didn’t need to be included among the six. This project was ranked fourth on a list of 40 projects for Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Yancey, Mitchell and Watauga counties.
Barnes said Wilkesboro officials wanted to include the widening of Oakwoods Road, from Main Street to four-lane U.S. 421 among the six. It currently is ranked 28th on the list of 40 projects but has no project number or estimated cost.
He said Wilkesboro officials wanted U.S. 421 in western Wilkesboro widened as a “super street” instead of moving ahead with a proposed U.S. 421 Bypass. The bypass has an estimated cost of $92.4 million and hasn’t been funded.
“Eliminating the bypass and doing the super street should be our top priority,” said Commissioner Gary D. Blevins. The super street will cost about a third less and boost retail business.
Blevins said part of the objective in widening Oakwoods Road was to make it a gateway to Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro.
Barnes said he hadn’t received any comments from North Wilkesboro officials about what projects they preferred.
If the proposed U.S. 421 Bypass is dropped, said Commissioner Charles Sink, the proposed N.C. 268/18 Bypass from near Taco Bell on N.C. 18 North in North Wilkesboro to U.S. 421 West in Wilkesboro via Suncrest Orchard Road isn’t viable.
The N.C. 268/18 Bypass (R-616) is ranked 13th among the 40 projects. It hasn’t been funded but has an estimated cost of $63 million.
Sink recommended that the $4.6 million project on “a short section (of N.C. 268 West) at the Caldwell line” be dropped. This project, identified as R-2602, is ranked 39th among the 40 and hasn’t been funded. Sink said he didn’t know what it involved.
“Industrial Park Drive” in North Wilkesboro is ranked 40th, hasn’t been funded and has no project number. Barnes and County Manager John Yates said they believed it was a proposed road into the Town of North Wilkesboro’s industrial park from River Road.
Listed as 24th among the 40 projects is a proposed connector road from U.S. 421 East to N.C. 268 East at the Airport Road intersection, which would provide direct access from North Wilkesboro’s industrial park to four-lane U.S. 421.
The U.S. 421/N.C. 268 connector has an estimated cost of $35.8 million but hasn’t been funded. “I can’t imagine that this will ever happen,” said Blevins.
He expressed the same sentiment about the proposed widening of N.C. 268 East from Airport Road to West End Elkin (R-3309). It is listed 16th with an estimated cost of $90.1 million but hasn’t been funded.
“But that provides access straight to I-77,” said Sink.
Several commissioners also indicated doubt about the proposed widening of N.C. 18 North from the Mulberry community to the Alleghany County line, which is listed 33rd among the 40 projects. It also hasn’t been funded and is listed without an estimated cost or project number.
Also included among the current 10 projects for Wilkes is widening N.C. 16 from U.S. 421 to the Ashe County line (R-2207). It is listed 10th and with a cost of $25.9 million, but hasn’t been funded.