Columbus just wants a sidewalk

Published 8:00 am Saturday, June 16, 2018

Town officials sign letter to help kill proposed Highway 108 expansion

COLUMBUS — A project to widen Highway 108 between Columbus and Tryon is getting closer and closer to being removed from the State Transportation Improvement Plan, as Columbus leaders signed a letter Thursday that opposed most of the state’s  proposed work..

The official’s letter does not specify the “No Build Alternative” for the section within Columbus limits because the town wants the state department of transportation to build a sidewalk from St. Luke’s Hospital to the Polk County Library.

Dorothy Easley shakes Columbus Councilman Mark Phillips’ hand following the town’s meeting Thursday. (Photos by Leah Justice/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

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Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre read the letter directed to the NCDOT, and said the town is only interested in the sidewalk improvement between the hospital and Isothermal Community College/library campus.

“For the remainder of the project, the town supports the ‘No Build,’” McIntyre said. “It makes no sense for them to do what they are going to do and leave a quarter of a mile or so of what we could get done. That is the only thing this town is supporting right now.”

A few residents with the group Save Hwy 108 and Lynn — which quickly formed after the NCDOT revealed its plans in late April to widen the highway, add 12 turn lanes and replace two bridges — spoke to the council Thursday.

Residents asked the town to add to its letter a request to delete the sidewalk project from the R-5838 project and add it to the I-4729B project, which includes the proposed improvements between the hospital and downtown Columbus, including the replacement of the bridge over Interstate 26.

“To the extent the town of Columbus community desires to retain a sidewalk project, we fully respect that,” said Dorothy Easley with the citizen group. “We do not presume to meddle or intervene in that.”

Easley and others did ask that Columbus’ letter include that the sidewalk project be removed from the R-5838 plan. 

“By doing so, R-5838 can be removed from the STIP, and that allows the community that we all love to finally be able to get back to the responsibilities of their businesses and raising families, and allows Brian Burch [NCDOT engineer] to get some sleep.”

Columbus Town Manager Tim Barth said the town’s only cost for  the sidewalk between the hospital and library will be 20 percent of the actual sidewalk expense — not the curb and gutter or paving, only the concrete.

Melissa LeRoy, also with Save Hwy 108 and Lynn, thanked the Columbus and Tryon town councils, the Polk County Board of Commissioners, Gov. Roy Cooper and the residents who have fought the plan. She shook the hands of all council members following public comments.

Melanie Jennings, another member of group and resident of Skyuka Road, thanked the town for, “tolerating us and our little rebel group.”

She said she has traveled extensively and noticed other areas are now trying to build communities like Polk County already has. She thanked Columbus for trying to keep the county like everyone else wishes they could be and for taking steps so “5838 could officially die a death.”

Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf thanked everyone who spoke.

“I want you all to know that I am so proud of you for standing up and pushing us to do the right thing, because we all need a little jolt sometimes,” Metcalf said. “I do respect you all very much as citizens. I know y’all want for Columbus exactly as we want.”

Councilman Robert Williamson said he appreciates the group’s passion and desire to keep Polk County and the community how residents like it. He represents the town with the Rural Planning Organization, and promised to let the agency know the town’s and residents’ wishes on the project at its next meeting.

In order for the project to be taken off the STIP list, Columbus and Tryon had to relay their wishes for the plan in town limits. Polk County has already signed a “No Build Alternative,” so no improvements will be made in the county portion of the project-area.

The Tryon Town Council meets at 7 p.m. Thursday. Tryon has already voiced its concerns over the project, but will need to send another letter to NCDOT with its final wishes for the area in town limits.