Infrastructure Contest: West Jefferson Revitalization

Below is one of five top Infrastructure Projects, selected in our Strongest Infrastructure Project contest by a panel of Strong Towns staff and contributors. Read through this submission and the others, then vote for the strongest.

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Name of Project: West Jefferson Revitalization

Location: West Jefferson, NC

Submitted by: The Town of West Jefferson

Type of project: Public

About the project: After the railroad left in the 1970's, West Jefferson was a crossroads for employees going to work in the town's manufacturing facilities. Between 2001 & 2008 most of these facilities closed leaving the downtown with building vacancies, an unattractive street front, and vehicle infrastructure that was not conducive to pedestrian traffic. In 2002, the Ashe Revitalization Committee (now the West Jefferson Community Partnership) worked with NC State University and developed a downtown charrette visioning many new design plans for the Town.

In 2010 NCDOT announced the resurfacing of Jefferson Avenue. The Town and Town Board of Aldermen knew this was the perfect time to move on some of the ideas from the 2002 Charrette Plan. The Town partnered with NCDOT, McGill Associates, Blue Ridge Electric Co-op, & Appalachian District Health Department to design a downtown that would be a pedestrian friendly and walkable downtown. NCDOT's Dean Ledbetter, Engineer Planner, had a vision to remove traffic lights in downtown and make all-way stops. This first needed to be approved by the WJ Board of Aldermen and by narrow margin the board approved removing the downtown traffic lights. The project had strong merchant support, and all those in attendance at the meeting were wearing neon badges, "Say Yes to DOT".

NCDOT and the Town moved quickly to begin the project. Now in 2016 the town has placed electrical utilities for street lights under the sidewalks, removed three traffic signals and added bump-outs and landscaping. The all-way stops have slowed traffic to allow the people to see all the unique downtown shops, made crossing the streets for pedestrians more safe by shortening the crossing distance, and the new curb extensions have also made us ADA assessable.

The town used a program developed by local Arts Council Director Jane Lonon called the "Empty Window's Project" where local art was placed in empty storefronts, to now having Zero - "0" - empty buildings in downtown! The streets are filled with locals and tourists enjoying the pedestrian friendly atmosphere that streetscape design has developed. Downtown buildings have been and continue to be renovated by the owners spending in excess of $250,000 on the buildings. If you do not believe Downtown Revitalization/Streetscape Plans work, visit Downtown West Jefferson in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina! The West Jefferson TDA’s new logo, “Everyone Fits Here,” is exemplified by the charm of downtown West Jefferson.

(Images by Martin Seelig)


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