Corridor K Should Be A Model for Future Highway Projects

MountainTrue has been working for decades, through our participation in WaysSouth, to ensure that the Corridor K highway expansion project met local needs to improve safety and reliability without compromising our rivers, forests and mountain heritage. Responding to community concerns, the North Carolina Department of Transportation put forward a final proposal for Corridor K on Thursday, March 25 that is excellently designed, and economically and environmentally sound.

The proposal outlined in the Final Decision Notice and Environmental Assessment is good for our communities and businesses. The project will improve the flow of traffic by widening the existing highway and adding strategically placed passing lanes so that only a minimal segment will have to accommodate four lanes. The new design should cut response times for ambulances, fire trucks and police by improving the Highway 143 route from Stecoah Valley to Robbinsville. It avoids unneeded impacts to residential communities, including Stecoah Heights. And it brings sidewalks to Robbinsville and a new greenway to Stecoah.

The Department of Transportation listened to stakeholders when environmental concerns were raised and balanced these community improvements with environmental stewardship by reducing the overall footprint of the road project and adding in some much-needed wildlife and recreation infrastructure. Most importantly, the department dropped plans for carving a new four-lane highway through intact forests and steep mountains, instead making effective improvements to an existing corridor.

The new Corridor K project will totally encapsulate acid-producing rock where necessary to protect local streams, rivers, lakes and aquatic ecosystems. The project also includes a new land bridge, initially proposed by WaysSouth, over the four-laned segment near Stecoah Gap. By creating a land bridge overpass above the highway, the critical wildlife corridor through the mountain pass will actually function better for wildlife than before the improvements. This overpass design also better preserves scenic views as well as the character and hiking experience of the Appalachian Trail.

It took a long process to get here, but the North Carolina Department of Transportation should be recognized for listening to the concerns of local residents and businesses, implementing a collaborative and transparent process with all stakeholders, and coming back with a proposal that incorporates many of the best design ideas put forth by WaysSouth and the community.

This was not business as usual for the state’s transportation planners. Department staff and their planning and design consultants deserve high praise for their creative and collaborative approach. MountainTrue and WaysSouth’s hope is that this serves as a model for future highway and road improvement projects.

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.