Asheville has plans to construct sidewalks along Johnston Boulevard, where some residents say the winding residential street has long been a danger for pedestrians, particularly students walking to and from the elementary school located along the corridor.
The project has an estimated cost of $2.8 million and proposes 4,500 feet of new sidewalk along alternating sides of the roadway between Patton Avenue and Iona Circle in the vicinity of Roger Farmer Memorial Park.
Trish Sharpe has lived on Johnston Boulevard for 36 years. She's the onsite manager of the Bear Creek Manufactured Home Community, which sits at the intersection of Johnston Boulevard and North Bear Creek Road and abuts Johnston Elementary School.
"The traffic is very heavy," she said of the stretch of road, adding journeys along the shoulder are hazardous. "It's like crossing two or three times just to make sure you're out of traffic while you're walking."
She said this is a much-needed project. She's watched countless children, including her own, making the trek along Johnston Boulevard to get to school, and she and other parents have pleaded for sidewalks, worried about heavy traffic and speeding cars.
The city is asking for public input regarding recent changes to permitting for the section of the project that adjoins the city park.
City representatives have signed a letter of concurrence agreeing that acquisition of permanent easement from the park for construction of a sidewalk would not adversely affect the activities, features, and attributes of the space.
The project is in the design phase, with final design expected in mid to late-2022, according to city project manager Vinnie Sullivan.
Permitting and review is slated for spring to summer 2022, and construction for fall/winter 2022 to summer/fall 2022.
Sullivan understands the necessity of this project from talking to area residents and walking the street himself. He said he's noticed the potential danger.
Projects like this are important, he said, offering "newfound freedom" to residents living in often unwalkable areas.
"People are just happy to be able to access stores and school and their neighbors without taking their lives in their hands," he said.
According to a city news release, the purpose of the project is to improve mobility, safety and continuity for pedestrians on city streets and provide pedestrian connections to local schools.
It includes installation of sidewalk, wheelchair ramps and drainage, as well as accessible crossings on Patton Avenue.
The project will use federal funds provided by the N.C. Department of Transportation that will be administered locally by the city.
Sullivan said the project was ranked high in a city evaluation of need and is part of a four-project bundle for new sidewalks around the city, including sidewalk improvements on Onteora Boulevard, New Haw Creek Road and Patton Avenue -- all of which are in the design phase.
He said the Johnston Boulevard project is the final one to get designed.
Nestled within a residential area in West Asheville, Sharpe said the Bear Creek community has 38 units and a duplex, with upwards of 200 people living in the neighborhood, many with children.
Those without vehicles are forced to make the walk to school, and kids waiting for the bus have little to no curb, she said. A sidewalk would mean a place to stand at school and city bus stops, rather than in the road.
Along the road are several accident-prone intersections, according to residents, including a four-way stop at the intersection of Johnston Boulevard and North Bear Creek Road.
According to Asheville Police Department crash reports, there have been five accidents at the intersection in the last year, and Sharpe said she has witnessed several herself and countless fender benders and minor collisions.
"Last one we had, it sounded like an atomic bomb going off," she said.
"The main thing is the kids' safety," she said. A sidewalk would be the "best thing" for the road, especially as traffic increases and the area grows in size.
She and other residents have been hearing rumors about sidewalk improvements for years, and when it finally happens, she will able to breathe a sigh of relief.
"My neighbor was just asking about it," Sharpe said. "I can let her know that yes, we are still looking at getting sidewalks, it’s just going to be a little bit longer.”
The public can submit comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or johnstonBlvdImprovements@PublicInput.com.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email email@example.com or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville to construct sidewalks along Johnston Boulevard for safety