"We are focused on broad education," says Julie Mayfield, executive director the alliance, a grassroots nonprofit environmental organization based in Asheville. The goal of the new site, www.i26connectusproject.org, is to gather key information in one place and keep neighborhoods informed about changes to the project plans.
The road project has been in the works for nearly two decades, with construction now scheduled to begin in 2014. The work will rank as one of Asheville's biggest road projects, with an estimated price tag ranging from $500 million to more than $800 million. The construction plans include widening Interstate 240 in West Asheville, building a new highway bridge crossing the French Broad River and changing the configuration of the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange, which often clogs with interweaving traffic.
Earlier this year, the N.C. Department of Transportation announced it was delaying the project's construction for a year (from 2013 to 2014) to further study the construction's impact. There are four proposed routes for construction of the connector, including a locally developed alternative that will be analyzed.
"Not much will be happening in the public eye until next spring," says Mayfield, noting that the supplemental environmental impact statement evaluating those alternatives will be released about then. In the meantime, the WNC Alliance continues to hold informational forums in the Emma and Hillcrest communities. Attention has also focused on the Burton Street neighborhood.
The WNC Alliance also continues to circulate a petition asking that the goals of a 2000 committee making recommendations about the design of the road be met. Those goals include separating local and interstate traffic, minimizing impacts on neighborhoods and businesses and matching the scale of the project to the character of the city.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor
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