A technicality forced the Buncombe County commissioners to postpone a meeting on their preferred route for the much-disputed Interstate 26 Connector.
On Dec. 16, the commissioners narrowly voted to delay endorsing one of the four potential routes for connector, as requested by the state Department of Transportation. The controversial project has been in the works for nearly two decades. Commissioner K. Ray Bailey cast the deciding vote for the delay, siding with board Chair David Gantt and Commissioner Holly Jones.
One of the issues the board discussed that day was whether postponing their decision might further delay the project or result in a loss of state funding. The other key point was Bailey, Gantt and Jones saying they wanted more time to consider the route proposed by the Asheville Design Center, a local nonprofit group of engineers and architects.
A few days later, however, Bailey changed his mind, joining Commissioners Carol Peterson and Bill Stanley in calling for a special meeting on Dec. 23 to discuss the matter. Gantt told Xpress that while he was personally against holding a special meeting, the three commissioners had the right to call for one under state law.
The county did send out a notice about the special meeting, but it wasn’t signed by either Gantt or the three commissioners in question, as required by law.
Jones, a former Asheville City Council member who was elected to the county board in November, pointed out the deficiency. “I feel that government transparency was one of the big reasons I was elected,” she told Xpress.
At press time, the meeting had been set for Tuesday, Jan. 6, the commissioners’ next regular meeting date.
City Council has already endorsed the Asheville Design Center route, known as alternative 4b. And the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce announced in its December newsletter that it was recommending a different route, referred to as alternative 3, which the Chamber said meets its criteria, including quality of life and economic prosperity.
DOT officials say they plan to announce their decision next fall. The connector project will create a new highway crossing the French Broad River, widen Interstate 240 in West Asheville and change the configuration of the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange, known as “Malfunction Junction.” Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013, and the estimated cost could run anywhere from $500 million to more than $800 million, depending on which route the DOT decides to use.