I-26 construction delayed for a year; design center shut out of decision

I-26 construction delayed for a year; design center shut out of decision-attachment0

The North Carolina Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced its decision to delay the construction of the long-awaited I-26 connector project one year — until 2014 — to further study impacts in the area. NCDOT will also include the locally developed Alternative 4b in its studies and try to reduce one of the project’s most controversial features — its impact on the Burton Street neighborhood. However, the Asheville Design Center, who developed 4b, say that NCDOT shut them out of the decision.

“I found out Wednesday when WLOS dropped by to get my comment,” Design Center Executive Director Chris Joyell told Xpress. “There’s a news camera in my face and I’m reading the announcement off of a reporter’s I-phone. That’s the way I got this message. Considering that the design center has been a partner with DOT on 4b, to not even call and notify us of the decision was very unprofessional—and I’ve communicated that to DOT.”

However, he added that “we’re really happy to see 4b included and that they’re going to try to address community concerns.”

Representatives of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Alternative 3, a rival plan, were at the meeting with NCDOT, Chamber CEO Rick Lutovsky confirmed.

“I really can’t speak to that,” NCDOT division construction engineer Rick Tipton, of why the chamber was included and the ADC wasn’t.

NCDOT’s official announcement asserts that more time is needed to study increasing traffic numbers and the environmental impact of the proposed alternatives.

“While I-26 traffic volumes have remained relatively unchanged from previous projections, preliminary results of the traffic forecast show the traffic volumes for the crossing streets, ramps and auxiliary lanes are higher than previously projected,” the announcement reads. “This could create congestion for local traffic if it is not resolved. In an effort to ensure the least impact to and avoid segmentation of local roadways and neighborhoods, careful study of the project’s effect on local interchanges and traffic is currently under way.”

Lipton clarified that the main problem “is the intersecting roads. Traffic is projected to remain fairly stable on I-26 itself.”

Lutovsky said he wasn’t pleased about the delay, but understands the reasons for it.

“We need this project and we need it soon,” he told Xpress. “But it has to be able to handle increased traffic, and it will take some time to ascertain from the new traffic projections what changes will need to be made.”

However, he warned that the longer the project’s delayed, the more its cost will increase.

“If it’s not going to be built until 2014, then bids won’t start until 2013,” Lutovsky said. “While there’s a bit of a dip now, I can’t imagine construction costs being any less expensive by then. I’ve never seen the price of anything drop over that amount of time.”

Under the new schedule, NCDOT, originally slated to endorse an alternative this summer, will wait until next summer to do so, and will include Alternative 4b in its environmental impact studies. It will also try to reduce the impact on the Burton Street area, where Alternative 3, endorsed by the chamber and (narrowly) by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners earlier this year, will destroy 8 homes and leave much of the rest of the community facing retaining walls. Alternative 4b would take one home from the Burton Street area, according to the department’s most recent plans. Asheville City Council has endorsed 4b.

Commissioners voted on their alternative in January, noting at the time that their vote was held, in part, so as not to delay the project.

Joyell was also displeased with the delay.

“If there’s one thing the community agrees on, it’s that we don’t want to delay this project any longer, we want to move on it,” Joyell said. “But while we don’t like the delay, it will give us a lot of time to build our case, to inform the community and refine our designs.”

The proposals for the project have been a source of controversy, with proponents of 4b asserting that, by using less land than 3, it will better connect the community, put more land on the tax rolls and displace less people. Proponents of 3 counter that 4b’s construction price tag might prove too much and that 3 reduces driving times considerably more.

The I-26 Connector project will create a new highway crossing over the French Broad River, widening Interstate 240 in West Asheville and changing the configuration of the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange, known as “Malfunction Junction.” The project has been in discussion for nearly two decades. The estimated price tag for all the work comes in at anywhere from $500 million to more than $800 million, depending on exactly which course DOT decides to take.

The full announcement from NCDOT is below.

—David Forbes, staff writer

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Transportation has changed the project schedule for the proposed Interstate 26 Connector in Asheville to further review and revise the proposed designs for the alternatives under study and to prepare a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The new project schedule, which reflects an approximate one-year delay, is:

n     Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Spring 2010
n     SDEIS Public Hearing: Summer 2010
n     Preferred Alternative Chosen: Summer 2010
n     Final Environmental Impact Statement: Early 2011
n     Record of Decision: Summer 2011
n     Begin Right-of-Way Acquisition: Fall 2012
n     Begin Construction: Fall 2014

The Federal Highway Administration requires an interchange modification report for all revisions to the interstate system, such as the I-26 Connector. This report looks beyond the project area to ensure the interstate and other interchanges will operate properly when the project is constructed and into the future. For the purpose of this report, the N.C. Department of Transportation is updating the traffic forecasts for the entire project.

While I-26 traffic volumes have remained relatively unchanged from previous projections, preliminary results of the traffic forecast show the traffic volumes for the crossing streets, ramps and auxiliary lanes are higher than previously projected. This could create congestion for local traffic if it is not resolved. In an effort to ensure the least impact to and avoid segmentation of local roadways and neighborhoods, careful study of the project’s effect on local interchanges and traffic is currently under way.

NCDOT anticipates that design modifications may be needed for some of the alternatives. Other design changes may be made in the Burton Street area of Asheville to reduce the impact to residences and businesses, including building retaining walls. These updates will be included in the SDEIS, which will also include alternative 4B.

Since the September 2008 public hearing, NCDOT has been reviewing and addressing the public comments received. That process is almost complete. The responses will be posted on the project Web site (http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/I26Connector/) in the post-public hearing minutes soon.

Another public hearing will be held once the SDEIS is completed. All project alternatives will be displayed and citizens will be able to provide their comments, which will be considered when selecting the preferred alternative.

The NCDOT proposes to widen existing I-26/240 from the I-26/240 interchange to U.S. 19/23/74A (Patton Avenue) and construct an eight-lane, median-divided freeway with fully-controlled access on a new location from Patton Avenue to an interchange at U.S. 19/23/70 and Broadway Street (State Road 1781). The proposed freeway will have 12-foot travel lanes with 12-foot paved shoulders. The proposed roadway improvements will require additional right of way and the relocation of homes and businesses.

 

 

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10 thoughts on “I-26 construction delayed for a year; design center shut out of decision

  1. Austin

    The NCDOT and the chamber of commerce are shameless. Their actions make me want to tear my hair out.
    I wish I understood how the NCDOT gets to choose who they want as their community spokesman. Seriously, does anyone know if they are breaking rules?

  2. Nancy Freeman

    I can not believe this! Another delay, another study??? How many studies do you need to realize SOMETHING needs to be done on this project. How much more $$$$$ is to be put in studies that I would think have already been put into this >? There is an accident on the Smoky Pk Bridge almost every day now and it just gets worse when summer traffic arrives.Come on people, lets get on with this!!!! I can’t see it getting any cheaper!!

  3. James L

    How is it in any rational scenario that a self appointed group of self proclaimed experts and engineers have any claim to the role of community spokesman with our state department of transportation. I’m sorry another action group from Asheville feels dismissed, but perhaps it’s the cold hard slap of reality creeping in to remind them that they have no claim to the throne of influence as they want to convince themselves that they have.

    The rampant sense of entitlement displayed by every group in Asheville who has differing opinions of their own is not helping this community work through important issues to beneficial results. In fact, it is serving to damage our community’s credibility with state and federal agencies.

    It’s great that a community group provided their input, and it’s important that the state hear and duly consider their ideas. That’s constructive on both sides. Expecting the state to automatically give them an official management or consulting role just because they have ideas is not.

    Every community has a Chamber of Commerce which plays a defined legitimate and measurable role in each community. The NCDOT is following appropriate procedure by concluding the community input portion and moving on to the development stage with participants who are positioned to support the process by charter or policy, not by personal opinion or sense of entitlement. This is not mob rule.

  4. 9-volt

    DOT has been treating the ADC like a heretic group of wackos. These folks are local professionals who have more expertise and knowleddge than any other group involved.

    Hopefully DOT will factor in the long term costs to the city of Asheville, not just the short term costs of construction.

  5. Austin

    James L, If there was a straight vote in Asheville, 4b would win. I believe this from the bottom of my heart and the chamber has to know this as well. YOU GUYS ARE NOT THE VOICE OF ASHEVILLE ON THIS ISSUE! YOU ONLY HAVE PLACED YOURSELVES IN A POSITION WHERE IT APPEARS LIKE THAT TO THE NCDOT. I and many others are offended by the role the chamber has put themselves in. That being said, there are some things you can teach me,

    “the NCDOT is following appropriate procedure by concluding the community input portion and moving on to the development stage with participants who are positioned to support the process by charter or policy, not by personal opinion or sense of entitlement”

    Can you please tell me where these procedures are listed so that they aren’t so mysterious to those people who want to stay involved.
    Also, what kind of charters or policies would the participants be supporting, and why is the ADC not qualified to be involved, considering their long history with this process?

    I think you are wrong that the public should be left out after their initial comment. Not with something that will affect their lives forever.
    The ADC has taken a lead in this just like you guys at the chamber and your not recognizing that is just another level of disrespect.
    City councils vote was in accord with the citizens wishes and the business elite lobbied hard with county to get their vote. This is no mystery. Your arrogance leads you to think that you own this process. It’s offensive to those of us who like working together.
    If you guys keep going against the citizenry, there is a good chance things could get caught up in court. Isn’t it easier just to work with everybody? This is obvious to me. You must realize that the more you rob the public of a role in this, the more difficult it is to get the community together behind a design. I feel like I’m lecturing a 14 yr old. You must know this, and yet……
    I live right west of Sams, so don’t give me that ‘getting emotional’ line you already stated. I will never apologize for caring about my neighborhood and city, and I will never apologize for fighting for what I think is right.

  6. 9-volt

    James L. – My sense is, you are threatened by the ADC because your “throne of influence” is being turned into a bench. I’m sure your opinion on traffic engineering and land use deserved greater weight than a meager group of design professionals.

    The ADC is the only group that has opened this process to the people and the only group that has actually offered a solution, rather than just whining.

    I think the ADC has earned the entitlement of being informed that the project was delayed a year. That’s really more of a tap on the shoulder than a slap.

  7. nholder

    Perhaps a little historical perspective could help?

    “Room to Think: It Seemed Like a Natural,” Sept. 27, 2006, Xpress (www.mountainx.com/news/2007/0927news.php/http://www.mountainx.com/news/2007/0927news.php/)

    “I-26’s Unswerving Planners,” Oct. 18, 2006, Xpress
    (www.mountainx.com/news/2007/1018news.php/)

  8. Piffy!

    i say dismantle the interstate and allow WNC to create its own localized economy.

    Set up TP and his ilk at the entrances to our region with guns to collect a tax from anyone wanting to visit the area, or transport goods through the region. Confiscate any property being shipped in for sale from outside our bio-region.

  9. Austin

    Jamse L, are you out there, or were you just the token chamber commentor?
    Are we dialoging? Hello? I thought you wanted to discuss this. Maybe you were just wanting to remind us of the chambers position. Thanks for nothing.

  10. James L

    I don’t work for the chamber, and other than being a citizen of the City of Asheville, I have no official involvement with the project. What I am speaking to is precisely what it illustrated time and time again on these forums.

    Duly elected bodies and agencies of NC government are entitled and expected to work according to process and not at the will of individuals or special interest groups. I don’t discount this group’s input or ideas one bit. I do take great exception to yet another attempt by local activists insisting that they have authority to hijack a process or bend it to their will simply because they want their way.

    This is not a large scale “hold your breath until you get what you want scenario.” As much as your opinions are valid, so too are those of the rest of the world. I’m sorry if you don’t always get what you want. Neither do I. In this case, I don’t want my local, state and federal tax dollars squandered on extended delays or breaches in process just to appease groups who have unrealistic expectations and an inflated sense of entitlement.

    There have been opportunities for participation all around, and the 4B group has made the most of theirs in a sometimes impressive fashion. But it shows a lack of credibility when a group is so unrealistic about their role in the process vs their opinions or emotions. Just my opinion, and I’m sorry you don’t agree. The end result is this: Just because you have your strong opinion, I don’t have to care if you agree or not do I?

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