It’s been a long road, but the end is still a ways off and now is the time to be more vigilant than ever.
Construction on U.S. 221 between Watauga and Ashe counties began in 2015. In a prefect world, we would have been viewing a ribbon-cutting ending to the 16-mile, four-lane project two years ago.
But our world is far from perfect, and in 2018 we witnessed this when Hurricane Florence reached into the mountains, pummeling the High Country and setting off a collapse of a stretch of the highway in Deep Gap. What went from a planned 2019 completion is now set for 2025, with contracts expiring on Christmas Day of that year.
Today, much of the work has been essentially completed on the largest single portion of the highway, from U.S. 421 to the South Fork of the New River, with the roadway fully open for drivers. The next, and current phase, is nearly the opposite situation.
The portion of the highway linking the Jeffersons — an industrialized, heavy-traffic thoroughfare from N.C. 163 to the four-lane in Jefferson — is now under way. While drivers may have become accustomed to highway speeds through this stretch, and this is especially true if you make the green light at the corner of U.S. 221 and N.C. 163 heading toward Jefferson, this area is now a maze of cones and turns, stops and starts. Compound this with several altered turnoffs for businesses that can change daily, and everyone needs to slow down and give deference to the crews working the site.
It’s going to be like this for awhile, and there is no easy get-around route that would save drivers substantial time. Patience is in order.