Buildings spanning two city blocks are being razed in the North Main Street area of Waynesville to make way for a roundabout, though it will be another two years at least before actual construction gets underway.

The $4.5 million project was initially supposed to happen this year, but was postponed due to a spending freeze within the N. C. Department of Transportation.

Demolition had already begun when the project was halted, however, posing a conundrum. The swath of partially gutted and abandoned buildings near downtown were not only a public nuisance but also a safety issue. They had beome a magnet for vagrants. While standing empty, one was ravaged by a fire that appeared to be started by squatters.

Waynesville officials appealed to the DOT to finish off the demolition despite the agency’s spending freeze. Sympathetic to the concerns, local DOT officials in turn appealed to their superiors in Raleigh for a work-around.

“We had received communication from the town of Waynesville expressing concerns over the safety of the structures, vandalism and occupancy by transients. We recognized that the concerns expressed by the town were valid and needed to be addressed,” said Brian Burch, head of DOT division 14, which spans the 10 westernmost counties.

Burch secured permission to tackle the demolition in-house using Haywood DOT maintenance crews since the spending freeze meant letting a contract wasn’t possible. The only cost incurred by the DOT will be landfill fees for disposing of the rubble, Burch said.

Five buildings in all had been purchased by the DOT for right of way of the roundabout. Four of the five have now come down.

The first building to go was Main Street Automotive at the corner of North Main and Walnut streets — a building that had been mostly destroyed after a man suffering from a medical condition slammed into it with his truck.

The former Pet dairy building and a chiropractic office, which had been decimated by the fire, came next. Then last Wednesday, a former automotive shop at the corner of Marshall and North Main was reduced to rubble within about 30 minutes.

The last of five buildings targeted for removal, the iconic Duvall’s Restaurant, is slated to happen next week.

The Waynesville Fire Department was on the scene during the demolition to help with wetting down dust as needed.

“The Division 14 crew has been great to work with,” said Joey Webb, Waynesville Fire Department chief.

Duvall’s is the only structure with a basement, so some of the bricks left from the building debris will be used to fill in the basement hole, Webb said.

The goal of the roundabout project is two-fold. One purpose was to wrangle the dog-legged intersection into a safer and more orderly configuration. The other was an aesthetic makeover in hopes of sparking revitalization of the rundown area.

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