*Story from Watauga Democrat, September 27, 2012*
Concluding that the project would be too expensive, the town of Boone announced on Thursday that it has decided not to construct a road connecting Chestnut Drive to New Market Boulevard, also known as the Chestnut Street Connector.
“The estimated costs to Boone are now about twice what was originally projected,” said a statement from the town.
As part of the U.S. 421 and East King Street widening project that reached completion this year, a new brick-colored concrete median separates west- and eastbound traffic from Hardin Street to Old East King Street in Boone.
Residents of the Farthing Street and Chestnut Street neighborhoods, which include about 150 homes, spoke out against plans for the median three years ago, saying it would create an inconvenience and delay emergency vehicles.
They signed a petition requesting a stoplight at the highway’s intersection with Farthing or Chestnut, and when that was denied by the N.C. Department of Transportation, the town began negotiating with property owners near the neighborhood in pursuit of the connector street option.
In July, Boone Public Works Director Blake Brown said the acquisition of three properties — two partial tracts and one whole parcel — would be required to create the connector road.
Brown said road construction would cost about $300,000, in addition to right-of-way acquisition costs.
In 2010, town officials estimated the total project cost at $170,000.
NCDOT had committed $250,000 toward the project provided that letters of intent were signed by the end of the year.
“The town was unwilling to condemn private property for the project, and so representatives of the town have been discussing the potential project with the affected property owners, many of whom were very supportive. Ultimately, the town concluded that the project is too expensive,” the statement said.
The Boone Town Council has discussed the project in closed session meetings, including one on Sept. 10.
In a letter to Chestnut Street residents, Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson said, “We are all disappointed that the town cannot proceed with the connector. We want to let you know our decision and the reasons for it.”
John Heffren of Blue Ridge Avenue, near Farthing Street, actively spoke on behalf of neighborhood residents in favor of a stoplight at the highway intersection.
“Doing nothing is certainly not an option. Something does need to be done,” he said.
Heffren said he feels the original request for a stoplight is still the best solution for his community, where “it’s harder to get in and out of our community now. There’s no back door here; we don’t have a way out.”
He doesn’t feel the stoplight would be too close to other lights on the highway because he’s seen others that have been closer, he said.
“I think the town needs to do something. I just don’t think they should give up; they need to come up with a plan B,” Heffren said. “If the council is not going to look out for things like this for the community … what are they looking after?”
Heffren said he and other neighborhood residents will do some thinking and consider their options for the future.