Columbus mayor against taking of land for road expansion

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2018

Residents say Highway 108 construction will affect town

COLUMBUS — After hearing from residents urging the town to make a statement to the North Carolina Department of Transportation against the proposed widening of Highway 108 between Columbus and Tryon, Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre said he has a problem when land is taken.

Columbus Town Council met Thursday and heard from three residents, who all said the project will affect Columbus and its residents. 

McIntyre said he moved back here to raise his family and, when he looked at the plan and saw where land would be taken from a lot of places, he told a NCDOT official frankly, “we don’t need this.” 

Melissa LeRoy

McIntyre said if the state is going to widen each lane 2 to 3 feet for safety, he understands that, but when they start building something that is not necessarily needed and start to take land, “then I do have a problem.”

“I really don’t have a problem widening the road, but not to the point it’s going to take people’s businesses and land,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre added that he was speaking as a citizen, not on behalf of the town council.

Ernie Kan, of Columbus, said if town council does not think it has nothing to do with the Highway 108 project, the town does.

“It does affect Columbus,” Kan told council. “It calls for several businesses on 108 to close. There’s a daycare there that’s going to have to close because they are taking their parking lot away.”

Kan also said two doctors’ offices will have to close and in all, the project will mean about 100 jobs taken.

“Some of those live in Columbus,” Kan said. “That’s going to affect people in Columbus.”

She also questioned if the town’s joint water line connecting to Tryon will have to be moved and if the town would be the ones to have to move it.

“We need to think about how everything affects Columbus,” Kan said. “We don’t service the land, we service the people. The people in Lynn shop and do things here. When you say ‘well, we don’t need to get involved,’ you are saying, ‘they don’t matter.’”

Melissa LeRoy, who works for Foothills Wellness Center in Lynn, echoed Kan’s comments that the project does affect the residents of Columbus.

“We do not have a lot of doctors in this county,” LeRoy said, adding there are four doctor’s offices affected by this project.

She also said a lot of people who stand to lose property get water from Columbus.

“We stand to lose 16 businesses, not including businesses Dr. [Joe] Picone has planned, four homes and historic land on 108.”

Susan Johann, who said she’s lived in Columbus since 2005, also expressed concerns about the project. She said people in Columbus should also speak up and let not only NCDOT officials know they are against the project, but state legislators.

“We need the beauty of this area because that’s our calling card,” Johann said.

Councilman Robert Williamson said shortly after he was elected last year he was appointed to the Rural Planning Organization. He said he has received over 100 pages of emails from concerned residents over the project, and he has read all of them.

Williamson said most are constructive criticism to the plan and he is taking them to the RPO meeting.

Williamson said the plan is based on a 2008 plan that Polk County, Columbus, Saluda and Tryon approved.

“There were 17 public workshops on this plan,” Williamson said.

There were no drawings on the 2008 plan, Williamson said, and now is the time in the process to hear constructive criticism.

“The RPO does not decide the design, the engineering, the lay of the land,” Williamson said. “The NCDOT does that. We merely advise them the community input we are hearing. So rest assured, this will be part of the discussions that we have.”

The project is to widen Highway 108 between St. Luke’s Hospital and U.S. 176 in Tryon at an estimated $19 million. The Polk County Board of Commissioners and town of Tryon have both sent letters stating their opposition to the plan in its current form. The plan includes 12 turning lanes and the relocation of six commercial buildings and four homes.

The NCDOT is also currently taking feedback on a plan to widen Highway 108 from the hospital to Walker Street downtown. That project will include replacing the bridge over Interstate 26 and creating two-lane roundabouts. A public meeting about the hospital to Walker Street plan is Tuesday from 4-7 p.m. at the Isothermal Community College in Columbus.