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Officials seek public input on two-way traffic decision

The Sylva Herald & Ruralite of Sylva, North Carolina

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Sylva leaders have heard what consultants have to say regarding possible two-way traffic on Main Street. Now, they will look to get the public more involved.

Representatives from J.M. Teague Traffic Engineering of Waynesville outlined a 44-page study at an April 2 town board meeting. The purpose of the study, they said, was two-fold: to look at the effect that switching from one-way traffic to two-way has had on other towns; and to make recommendations for how to make the conversion, should officials decide to take that route.

Consultants listed six downtown areas that have made similar changes, including Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. Research compiled in the study shows a unanimously positive effect on each city's business environment.

Other potential impacts include slower but more congested vehicle traffic, which could increase the number of accidents but lessen the severity of them; an increase in people with taxpaying addresses using the road; an increase in foot traffic on sidewalks; and building faces being more exposed to travelers.

The consultants cited an engineering study developed in Napa, Calif., in sharing possible drawbacks for two-way traffic; most of them stemming from the increased traffic congestion, such as an added difficulty in emergency vehicles being able to pass through town.

There were limitations in comparing the various case studies to Sylva as well, consultants said. All of the examples listed looked at big cities. "We could not find a city or town with road and geographic constraints similar to Sylva's," they write in the study.

In dealing with logistics, consultants gave a couple of recommendations: require motorists to back into diagonal parking spaces; remove the Mill and spring streets traffic signal if, as suggested, Mill Street returns to one lane; and ban truckers from going west through town on Main Street if two-way traffic returns, because they couldn't easily navigate a then-needed "free-flowing" right turn onto Keener Street.

Traffic heading west on Mill Street would also yield to westbound vehicles on Main Street turning right on Keener Street.

Another recommendation, as an alternative to two-way traffic, is to leave Main Street as is and convert Mill Street back to one-lane, as it was in the months following a downtown fire in August. Merchants enjoyed slower-moving traffic and additional diagonal parking during that stretch.

Both options are purely hypothetical, at least for now. The study concluded officials should only pursue two-way traffic if they feel the business climate is lacking or could be dramatically improved.

Main Street Sylva Association conducted a survey recently of downtown business owners, asking them how they view the business climate in Sylva, the different ways it could be improved and if they would be in favor of two-way traffic on Main Street.

Although town board members have not received the survey results, Mayor Maurice Moody said the group's input is important and will be included in the decision-making process.

Board members are likely to hear the results at their April 16 or May 7 meeting Consultants said now is the perfect time to be examining an issue such as this, referencing the work being done statewide by N.C. Department of Transportation to update its Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

Still, officials remained mostly quiet at the April 2 meeting, leaving most of the talking to the consultants.

"This provides food for thought," said Moody after the presentation. "We have to get the public more involved. I think this is a decision that I would hope a lot of folks would voice their opinion on."

Town board members will hold at least one public hearing and will accept public comment in any form, Moody said in a follow-up interview.

"It is very early in this process," said town Manager Paige Dowling, also in a follow-up interview. "The public and N.C. DOT will need many opportunities to weigh in."

In other business, town board members Voted unanimously to approve changes to the town's political sign ordinance. Political candidates now must abide by time restrictions in their campaign efforts - they cannot put up signs more than 90 days before an election, and signs must be taken down within the 10 days following an election.

Voted unanimously to approve changes to the town's off-premise sign ordinance the ordinance is primarily designed for isolated businesses located "off the beaten path," said Dowling.

Adjustments to the specifics include size and height restrictions, placement restrictions - no signs allowed in residential distracts, for example; and the elimination of off-premise signs for businesses fronting N.C. 107 and U.S. 23 Business Voted unanimously for Sarah Thompson of the Southwestern Commission to work with Dowling on a pre-application for a community-planning grant that would look at and prepare for future growth in the area. Webster and Forest Hills have taken advantage of similar opportunities over the past year.

Thompson said considering the size of the town, Sylva would probably need to go after about a $40,000 plan. The town would be responsible for half of that cost; the rest would be matched by the grant.

The pre-application is more of a non-committal step while town leaders decide if it's something they want to pursue, she said. If the pre-application were to be accepted, the full application would be due in July.

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Original Publication Date: April 9, 2015

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