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Controversial connector is shelved for good, Debnam says

The Sylva Herald & Ruralite of Sylva, North Carolina

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A proposed connector that would bypass around Sylva is officially off the N.C. Department of Transportation's to-do list.

Last week, DOT sent cards to former road foes and supporters to inform them the project has no funding. "Studies are concluding for the time being with the distribution of this update notice," recipients were told.

Mailing out cards, DOT spokesman Steve Abbott said, serves "to let people know the status of the project, because there has been such a strong local interest in it."

Dubbed the 107 Connector, the road was once envisioned as a means of linking N.C. 107 south of Sylva to U.S. 23-74 to the east. Through the 2000s, arguments over the roadway raged. In recent years, the fervor waned as the project lost local officials' backing.

Commissioners vigorously opposed the road. In July 2013, DOT officials cited "local feedback" in its decision to delay studying the connector proposal until traffic problems on the congested, existing portion of N.C. 107 are fixed.

The final nail likely happened in March, when Gov. Pat McCrory appointed former Commissioners' Chairman Jack Debnam to the Board of Transportation. During his time on the county board, commissioners twice left the connector off a road-building priority list assembled at DOT request.

"It's off the table," Debnam said. "Everyone out there can breathe a little easier."

The DOT board member said a revival would require a complete start over. "It would have to go through the whole process," Debnam said.

To be funded, a project has to receive points from the DOT division and the Rural Planning Organization, a regional group charged with making road-improvement recommendations to the state.

Supporters of the proposed road have said it would ease traffic congestion on current N.C. 107; opponents counter with studies that show this isn't a likely outcome.

N.C. 107 is one of Sylva's main arteries and serves as a primary commercial corridor in Jackson County. Up to 30,000 cars a day use the road, and the section within Sylva's town limits (from the Business 23/N.C. 107 intersection to Burger King) is overused (over-capacity in DOT-speak) during peak travel hours.

DOT also has said a connector would help reduce traffic on existing N.C. 107, but would not solve congestion. Only "substantial upgrades" to existing N.C. 107/U.S. 23 Business would do that, according to the DOT.



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Original Publication Date: August 13, 2015



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