By David Rogers. January 15, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — If early last year folks drove or walked down Sunset Drive from Main Street, they might have thought they had teleported into a Third World country.
COVER: Some 20 town officials and local business owners helped celebrate the “new” Sunset Drive grand opening, watching Mayor Charlie Sellers cut the ceremonial ribbon with big smiles and applause. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Tree roots erupted up through cracks in the sidewalk cement. Curbs, where they still existed, crumbled down to asphalt level. Uneven street pavement was par for the course up and down the narrow roadbed, where sections had been taken out to repair sewer or water lines, then received patchwork pavement. The upper section, nearest Main Street, felt more like a lane or trail than a “drive” or boulevard, it was so narrow.
Today, all of that is changed and Town of Blowing Rock officials and local business owners alike celebrated with a ribbon-cutting late Tuesday afternoon.
This project was on time and under budget.
In speaking with Blowing Rock News afterward, those participating in the celebration were all smiles and enthusiastic about what had been accomplished.
Town Manager Shane Fox was quick to point out the enormity of the project.
“This project required 1500 linear feet of new water lines,” Fox explained. “It needed 1200 linear feet of new sewer lines. All new (water and sewer) taps for every business and every resident up and down Sunset. All new curb and cutter and manholes were included with the project. Obviously, there was a lot of landscaping, too.
“The things you don’t necessarily see,” the town manager added, “are what are arguably the most important. These water and sewer lines dated back 60 and 70 years. They were identified by the Town five years ago as needing the most immediate replacement. The things (underground) that were done at the beginning of this project, things that you don’t see now, they were the most important. And the other big thing from a town management standpoint? The project came in on time and a little under budget.”
Sunset Drive no longer looks like we are living in a Third World country.
Since Sunset Drive runs down the entire backside of Blowing Rock School, having such a large construction project next door to an elementary school posed a concern for many community members, especially parents of students. Commissioner Virginia Powell was quick to heap praise on Iron Mountain Construction, the contractor.
“Iron Mountain went out of their way to keep our kids safe during this project,” Powell pointed out. “I don’t think many in town realize how diligent they were in keeping an eye on our kids during all phases of construction.”
Commissioners Albert Yount and Doug Matheson have served on Town Council since the project was first contemplated, in 2014.
“Before this project,” admitted Yount, “I think many Third World countries had better streets and sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and even water and sewer lines. This was dangerous, I think, and especially in the wintertime some of our staff would have to work on busted water and sewer lines. It is a new world on Sunset with these improvements.”
Split seconds in response time mean a lot to emergency service personnel.
Interjected Matheson, “One of the biggest improvements is that we were able to widen the actual street just a bit. And with the lines on it, including a new center line and parking spaces better identified down through there, it not only makes the whole roadway look wider, but it makes it safer. School buses have more room when passing by vehicles and fire trucks are given more room to pass through. Those split seconds in reponse-time mean a lot to emergency service personnel.”
One of the hoped-for results after the Sunset Drive renovations is a better business climate down the length of this important street artery.
“These were really important improvements to our Town infrastructure,” observed Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce CEO Charles Hardin (recently named “Chamber Executive of the Year for the Carolinas”). They help provide a better connection for the merchants down Sunset to the stores and businesses on Main Street. The way it was before, visitors to the town would often LOOK down Sunset when they got to the intersection, but they were reluctant to walk down the street because of the disrepair not just to the street itself, but to the sidewalks, too. Now, this is really nice. It is a draw because it looks just like Main Street.”
Mayor Charlie Sellers grew up in Blowing Rock, maybe not so far back as when Main Street was a gravel road, but he played up and down the Town’s thoroughfare, as well as the main artery connecting downtown to what is now Valley Blvd.
“These are really important improvements to our infrastructure,” Sellers said. “This is the only street that you come up to downtown and you have an immediate view of Memorial Park where it dead-ends into Main Street. Arriving at that intersection accentuates the park. It accentuates the Rotary Gazebo.
They kept our kids safe through all phases of construction.
“You turn off Valley Blvd.,” he added, “and look up Sunset Drive…now it is a whole new world of difference compared to what it was. I have heard nothing but positive comments from people about how good it looks, how much safer it is, and how it means so much to our presentation of the Town.”
Addressing some of the public concerns about how much time it took to make these improvements, Commissioner Sue Sweeting said, “As a Council, we have been working toward the completion of this project since 2014. Sometimes that kind of time is just what it takes when it comes to municipal government. You have to develop ideas for what you want, what kind of improvements to make and earn some kind of consensus among several constituent interests. Then you have to go through a bidding process. It all takes time.
“But the end result is worth it,” Sweeting concluded. “The actual construction was right on target. These sidewalks are unbelievable with the new curb and gutter, and they are level! This all looks much more attractive.”