RPO votes to continue with Hwy. 9 widening project

Published 12:27 pm Friday, November 18, 2022

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Foothills Rural Planning Organization rejects Polk County’s request scraps plans


RUTHERFORDTON – Despite organized, vocal community opposition and a no-build letter from Polk County commissioners, the $12.2 million Hwy. 9 widening project will remain on the NCDOT’s project list. 

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At a joint meeting held Nov. 16 in the Foothills Regional Commission office in Rutherfordton, the Transportation Coordinating Committee and the Transportation Advisory Committee, under the umbrella of the Foothills Rural Planning Organization, rejected Polk County’s request to scrap plans for the widening of a 2.7-mile section of Hwy. 9.


R-5840, as the project is named by NCDOT, will stay on the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP). Originally appearing on the county’s transportation plan in 2008, the project starts at the intersection of Hwy. 9 and Hwy. 108, and ends at the intersection of Hwy. 9 and US 74. 


About 20 Polk residents in orange “Save Hwy. 9” T-shirts attended the meeting. The group also included Polk County commissioners Tommy Yelton and Paul Beiler. 


Karen Pack, one of the group’s leaders, was given 10 minutes to speak on behalf of the group during public comment prior to the vote.


The voting process occurred in two steps. The TCC first voted 9-2 to recommend that TAC keep the project on the STIP. Then the TAC voted 5-4 to keep the project on the STIP.


TCC members who voted to recommend TAC keep the project on the STIP were Doug Barrick (Rutherfordton), Steve Garrison (Rutherford County), Hank Perkins (Lake Lure), Ron Harmon (McDowell County), Bob Boyette (Marion), Janet Mason (Forest City), Scott Webber (Spindale), Tim Daniels (Tryon), and Steven Orr (Saluda).


The TCC members who voted to recommend removing the project were Marche Pittman (Polk County) and Tim Barth (Columbus).


TAC members who voted to remove the project from the STIP were David Moore (Polk County), Brent Jackson (Columbus), Bill Ingham (Tryon), and Tangela Morgan (Saluda).


Voting to keep the project were TAC members Carol Pritchett (Lake Lure), Jimmy Dancy (Rutherfordton), Steve Holland (Forest City), Rosaleen Francis (Spindale), and Woody Ayers (Marion).


“The Polk County Board of Commissioners is obviously unhappy with the decision of the RPO,” said Marche Pittman, county manager. “However, we were very encouraged and appreciative of the citizens that took the time to come to the meeting. While it wasn’t the outcome we wanted or expected, we take some relief in the fact that NCDOT is pursuing the negotiated plan instead of the original 6 ft. paved shoulders.”


NCDOT Division 14 engineer Wanda Austin agreed to modify the original plans to reduce the lane size from 12 feet to 11 feet, and shoulder size from 6 feet to 4 feet. 


Pack was disappointed and frustrated after the vote, saying that she believed the members had their minds made up prior to hearing her group’s arguments against the state’s justifications for the project. Public involvement was not sought, opposition signatures were ignored, population growth didn’t meet state projections, and accident data didn’t support the state’s arguments, she said. 


“We are obviously being used by the RPO and the RPO is using their relationship with NCDOT to bulldoze over the citizens and our leaders’ wishes to stop this unnecessary road widening takeover to get visitors to Lake Lure. It was so blatantly obvious that the vote was set in stone,” she said, adding that the group might be looking to engage an attorney.  


The Foothills Rural Planning Organization provides transportation planning and mapping/GIS support to McDowell, Polk and Rutherford counties. It is one of 20 organizations in North Carolina formed to coordinate transportation planning in areas outside metropolitan regions. 


Located in Rutherfordton, Foothills RPO includes staff and two boards, the TCC and TAC. The TCC is composed of staff from member governments and agencies, and the TAC is composed of local elected and appointed officials. 


According to the organization’s website, its goals and duties include developing comprehensive transportation plans in coordination with NCDOT; providing a forum for public participation in the planning process; developing and prioritizing projects for the STIP; and providing transportation data to local governments and other interested parties.


During the meeting, Austin mentioned US 74 saying, “there is some interest in making that an interstate to Charlotte.”