The Asheville Design Center announced March 18 that it is opposed to language in a resolution being considered by local governments that recommends that the N.C. Department of Transportation move forward with “Alternative 3C” routing for a new stretch of I-26 through town. Since its founding in 2007, the nonprofit Design Center has been an influential voice in the ongoing contentious debate over the I-26 connector. The group’s opposition comes on top of complaints by neighborhood group I-26 ConnectUs Project released to local media outlets the previous day.
Buncombe County commissioners are considering the plan later on March 18 and Asheville City Council will vote on it March 25.
Asheville Design Center :
ADC Statement Regarding the Proposed CityCounty I-26 Prioritization Resolution
The Asheville Design Center (ADC) is a local nonprofit organization that was founded in 2007 by volunteers that have dedicated significant efforts toward improving the I-26 project where it crosses the French Broad River. Our organization has always supported timely, appropriate construction of the connector, and remains committed to the project.
However, ADC Members do not support the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) recommendation that the City of Asheville and Buncombe County jointly endorse an alternative for Section B of the I- 26 Connector Project at this time. We recognize that a new state funding process underway is intended to rank state highway projects in order of funding priority. However, we are concerned that the new formula for ranking statewide projects favors the least expensive alternative over other important design requirements that will impact our community for years to come. As stated by a local representative, “ It’s…the perfect storm of processes and steps… happening backwards”. Alternatives for the project should be based on fulfilling programmatic requirements first, then the project can be refined to address budgetary constraints. Solving the problem is the primary tenant of good design. From a cursory review of preliminary drawings recently posted for Alternate 3C, it is clear that the blended alternate does not fulfill the design requirements clearly identified in the City of Asheville Master Plan and the recommendations of the Community Coordinating Committee report. We consider the requirements outlined in these documents essential to the success of the project. Both Alternates 4 and 4B provide safer movements that remove interstate traffic from the Bowen Bridges. Alternative 3C does not, so the lower cost comparison is clearly not “apples to apples”. Asking the City and County to endorse an alternative for ranking based on preliminary cost estimates of Alternative 3c that has not been presented to the public is premature and out of sync with the Federal NEPA process. We suggest that it would be more prudent to withhold any recommendations prior to the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The ADC recommends that a full understanding of the relative impacts and benefits of each alternative be carefully considered before making any formal endorsement. Basing a joint recommendation of the City and County on the least expensive alternative now, even for the limited purpose of prioritization, creates a very real risk that our community will be locked into this alternative even if the EIS reveals another solution is more beneficial. However, if local leadership is compelled to adopt a resolution in support of the least expensive alternative, Alternative 3C, as the best way to ensure that the project remains viable, we ask that the resolution includes the following:
• That the resolution is only for the limited purposes of prioritization and does not reflect an endorsement of a final alternative, which will be made only after completion of the EIS and presentation of the alternates to the public;
• That Alternative 3C, as designed, does not meet the City’s long range plans for removing interstate traffic from the Jeff Bowen Bridges and the resolution should require redesign that include these important requirements that allow Patton Avenue to become a continuous boulevard from West Asheville into downtown;
• That the City and County continue to work with NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to create benefits for the entire region, as well as those communities that stand to be impacted the most by this project. This can be achieved by identify options that reduce the footprint of the project through implementation of a new traffic study that considers utilizing design exceptions to highway standards that are focused on context sensitive solutions.