The U.S. 421 West superstreet and Oakwoods Road improvement project have been delayed, said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland during a Monday morning town council work session.
Noland said he received this information at the most recent High Country Council of Governments Rural Transportation Coordinating Committee meeting in Boone.
Noland said the superstreet project was pushed back another year to 2022 as a result of N.C. Department of Transportation funds being shifted to coastal roads severely impacted by recent hurricanes.
The funds were shifted due to damage from Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018, and Hurricane Dorian last week.
In January, the DOT announced that the superstreet project in Wilkesboro would be delayed by one year to 2021. This delay was included in the state’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for 2020-29, approved by the N.C. Board of Transportation on Thursday.
The approved TIP listed the project as 3.4 miles long and said $6.37 million has been spent so far buying rights of way (ROW) for the additional width needed. The total projected cost of the project is $39.57 million.
Mike Pettyjohn, division engineer for North Wilkesboro-based DOT Division 11, said in January that ROW acquisition up to just east of the N.C. 16 North/Browns Ford Road interchange would be completed in 2019.
In March 2018, the Wilkesboro town council endorsed adding parallel service roads to either side of U.S. 421 in western Wilkesboro as part of the project. Pettyjohn said earlier that there are no plans for parallel service roads, other than what already exists along U.S. 421.
The current superstreet plan allows left turns at about a dozen intersecting streets—about six apiece on either side of U.S. 421—thus eliminating left turns to about 50 existing commercial entrance drives. The primary goal is reducing wrecks.
A left-turn lane is to be built at the remaining intersections so motorists can make U-turns and go back to turn right to desired destinations. The current center lane will be replaced with a grass median.
Motorists won’t be able to turn left when entering U.S. 421 from streets on either side. They also won’t be able to travel straight through intersections from one side of U.S. 421 to the other. Instead, motorists will have to turn right when coming onto U.S. 421 and go down U.S. 421 to turn to go the opposite way at one of several U-turns to be built. Also, the center turn lane will be replaced by a raised grass median.
Some business representatives say requiring U-turns and doubling back will discourage motorists from stopping to make purchases.
Noland said he learned that improvements along Oakwoods Road have been delayed two years, from construction starting in 2022 to now in 2024.
In January, council members and representatives of businesses and Wilkes Community College voiced opposition to revised plans for Oakwoods Road that include three new roundabouts.
The DOT originally planned to widen 1.3 miles of Oakwoods Road to four lanes, from U.S. 421 to Wilkesboro’s Main Street with a divided median.
Due to budget concerns, DOT officials recommended keeping Oakwoods a two-lane road and adding roundabouts at the intersections of Call Street and Oakwoods, South Bridge Street and Oakwoods and the intersection of Oakwoods with U.S. 421 on- and off-ramps on the south side of U.S. 421. A fourth roundabout was completed in 2017 on the north side of U.S. 421.
DOT officials also recommended adding a five-foot-wide sidewalk and a 23-foot-wide raised median for the portion of Oakwoods between South Bridge Street and U.S. 421. The section of Oakwoods from South Bridge Street to East Main Street would also remain two lanes, with a 10-foot multi-use path added on the west side for better access to Cub Creek Park.
With the raised median on the southern end of Oakwoods, southbound vehicles on Oakwoods couldn’t turn left on Executive Drive, thus making it a “right in, right out” intersection only.
The project is listed on the approved TIP with a total cost of $21.1 million.
Other town updates
Also on Monday, Noland said:
• Blue Ridge Engineering is 95% complete in its preparation of bid documents for sinkhole remediation of the Taco Bell and Winkler Shopping Center properties along U.S. 421 West. “Despite other setbacks, the DOT is expected to continue with this portion of the work which will allow for the site to dovetail in the bidding process,” which Noland expects to occur in the spring of 2020;
• in the last six months, recycling disposal costs have risen from $20 to $30 per ton as a result of foreign tariffs. In years past, said Noland, the town was able to dispose of recycled materials at little to no cost. By way of comparison, Noland said the town’s landfill tipping fee for general garbage disposal is $40 per ton;
• the Browns Ford Loop waterline project is “getting traction and seeing progress in its redesigned path.” Noland said a successful bore has been completed under U.S. 421 travel lanes and will then pivot to the town’s raw water treatment plant. “The section over Moravian Creek will still need to be negotiated, but the project appears to be moving forward once again;”
• the Woodfield water tank has been sand-blasted and repainted, and is expected to be back in service shortly. “The work was done as part of the tank maintenance contract that the town has acquired, which supplies these types of services as needed,” added Noland.