Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor
Last week I met at town hall with Brian Burch, the NCDOT Division 14 Engineer. Also at the meeting was Wesley Grindstaff, the division road maintenance engineer and Steven Buchanan the division traffic engineer. Chief Harrell joined us to share his law enforcement perspective.
Several topics related to roads and traffic on the plateau were covered, but our primary focus was developing a plan to curtail the increasing number of tractor trailer trucks on the Gorge Road. Two changes will address the problem.
First, in the coming months new warning signs will be installed at the truck turnaround in Franklin and on Main Street in Highlands between 3rd and 1st Streets. Warning signs already exist at these locations, but the new ones will have flashing lights to get the attention and direct truckers. The lights will only be activated by trucks of a specified length. Regular vehicles and pickup trucks will not activate the lights.
The second effort will be to review and improve the current ordinances and laws regulating Gorge Road truck traffic. These modifications will improve violation enforcement. Current laws can confuse drivers, especially the wording on the existing signs.
We also discussed improving the intersection just past the Ugly Dog where Satulah Road, South Street and NC 28 come together. DOT engineers will develop a new design, maybe a small traffic roundabout. It will be shared with town leadership to determine support to move forward toward funding. Now I hope folks won’t think this project will happen immediately. If the town told DOT they supported the plan, it would take several years to fund this probably million dollar project.
Grindstaff and I discussed the storm debris still on the state roadways. I was assured state crews would clean up the roads, but they, like our town crews, were “snowed under” from the December storm. The town road department will assist anyway they can, but we simply do not have the equipment resources that the state has.
Recent criticism implies that debris removal has been too slow, and that town leadership will do nothing about it. I take exception to those critiques in that I am committed to maintaining Highland’s beautiful appearance. I personally pick up trash on the road throughout the year, and under my leadership the spring cleanup of the Gorge Road has been expanded to all the major corridors. I would never be content for the town to leave debris on the roadways.
As I have recently stated, the road debris will be removed, but it will take time. Since the storm, our small street crew of five has spent as long as a week just cleaning up a single neighborhood. For the most part, the debris has to be loaded on a truck and deposited in a landfill.
As I have stated before, if a tree on private property falls onto the road right-of-way, workers will only remove the part in the roadway. The property owner is responsible for removing the remaining tree. Our current efforts may still appear to be rough. Like every year, crews will return in late winter and early spring to clear ditches and trim rhododendrons, and remove trash.
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