The Sylva Herald, by Patrick Clemon

Like many other facets of life in 2020, COVID-19 is affecting various N.C. Department of Transportation projects, including R-5600. The project to reshape Sylva’s commercial corridor has been postponed from fiscal year 2022 to 2025.

R-5600 is the DOT proposal for Sylva’s commercial corridor, N.C. 107, including the elimination of the center turn lane with sidewalks replaced and a 5-foot bike lane. Upgrades are slated for the N.C. 107/U.S. 23 Business intersection, and from U.S. 23 Business to Dillardtown Road and Municipal Drive, near the Sylva Fire Department. DOT’s preliminary estimate lists 55 businesses facing potential relocation or impact, though that number is fluid.

Residents of Sylva and the surrounding areas may not see physical changes anytime soon, but work is still ongoing behind the scenes.

“This project will continue to move forward with design,” said Jeanette White, DOT senior project engineer. “However, for land use needs or right-of-way acquisition, it’s being offset from this year to 2022.”

White said the early construction stages have been deferred as well.

“We’re not sure exactly which month it’s going to be, and we’re not 100 percent certain that these changes are going to go forward because we’re waiting on the state transportation board to vote on these potential probable changes next month, so that’s for the right-of-way acquisition needs and then construction is being offset to the fiscal year 2025 from 2022,” she said.

Even though the project has been delayed for some time, construction is inevitable.

“It is expected to take approximately three years for construction,” she said. “This project is definitely very huge. It has over 20 walls with cleaning lines along the project to help minimize impacts, so right now, we’re still estimating three years for construction.”

White also gave a brief step-by-step summary of what community members will experience during this time.

“We’re going to put the work in to construct all the bulb-outs on each side of the road first and then it’ll be up to the contractor to pick which side or the other that they choose to begin the construction,” she said. “We’re going to widen the road along that side, and then we’re going to move traffic to that side, and then we’re going to continue to widen the road on the other side.”

Many residents are concerned about how this eventual construction will affect their day-to-day travel.

“There’s going to be no permanent detours,” White said. “Most of the work can be completed at night except in the residential areas if there are any specific residential areas of concern.”

R-5600 would also affect local businesses.

“We’re in the process now contacting property owners from Pizza Hut, Verizon, roughly in that generalized area, all the way down to the first entrance to Lowe’s,” White said.

DOT is trying to address concerns of business owners who fear a loss of income over this period.

“We’re going to do all we can to maintain access to all businesses during construction,” she said. “There may be temporary closures for maybe a day because we’re putting a pipe in the front of a driveway, but we’re really trying to maintain access to all businesses throughout the project during construction.”

White detailed the choices some businesses will have to make for the project.

“We had two very large stormwater pipes that were being proposed between Verizon and across the street from Verizon,” White said.

Alternatives are given to landowners on how they would like to handle the situation, she said.

“Potentially a 7-foot by 7-foot box culvert would go either underneath the road or offset of the road so that we can really minimize impact so we’re actually getting property owners the ability to help assist in the decision process whether they would like a box culvert put along their property or if they would like an open stream literally along their property,” she said.

More information can be found at ncdot.gov.