The first public meeting for a new road project was held last Thursday, November 17th in Fannin County. The meeting was held in two locations on the same night. One location was the Fannin County Middle School in Blue Ridge, and the other was at the First Baptist Church in McCaysville. The purpose of the meeting was to inform citizens of the four alternatives presented by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for a new, four lane road. Regardless of which route is selected, the road will run from Highway 5 at the intersection of 515 in Blue Ridge to Copperhill, Tennessee, a stretch of anywhere between 10 and 12 miles, where the mileage depends on which route is selected.
Why this stretch of Highway 5? According to DOT Representative Mohamed Arafa, three criteria are required for the project: 1) need 2) safety 3) future use. The need criterion is arguably satisfied by the level of traffic. Recent statistics show that 7000 cars travel the road daily in the McCaysville area; 9000 cars daily in the West Fannin County Elementary School area and 13,000 per day in the 515 intersection of Highway 5. Also, a high frequency of accidents occurs on this stretch of Highway 5. Figures from the DOT state the number of accidents on the road, exceeds the state-wide average, satisfying the second criterion. In addition, the DOT expects the traffic in these areas to grow. It expects the McCaysville area to increase from 7,000 to 11,000 cars per day; the West Fannin Elementary School area to increase from 9,000 to 14,000 and the 515 intersection at Highway 5 to increase from 13,000 to 22,000.
During the presentation, citizens were given a comment card to fill out. The card was a survey asking citizens if they support the project and which route option they prefer and why they either support the route or do not support it. Some citizens filled out the form, while others spent their time examining the enlarged maps at the front of the room more closely. So, what could compel a person to choose one route over another? Distance? Direction? Perhaps. But, one concern for citizens may be the number of residential and business displacements caused by the construction of each particular road.
According to the literature presented by the DOT, each option will displace various residents and businesses. To displace, means to move a place of business or home for the construction of the road, physically destroying or moving the structure. For example, Route Alternate A, will potentially displace 134 residents and 65 commercial; Alternate B, will potentially displace 80 residents and 7 commercial; Alternate C will potentially displace 68 residents and 4 commercial and Alternate D, potentially 62 and 6 commercial
The project is expected to take three years to complete, starting in 2014 and ending in 2017. Funding for the project comes from the State Transportation Improvement Program, where 80 percent of the funding is Federal and 20, State. According to Arafa, the State has committed to the 20 percent. However, the Federal part is seemingly still pending.
Last Thursday’s public hearing was the first of several. Future hearings will further examine the options, plan the best of those options and start to secure right-away from property owners. FYN will follow this project as it progresses.