(Hayley Benton / Mountain Xpress)
The North Carolina Department of Transportation held a Feb. 11 open house at A-B Tech’s Enka campus to encourage public input and conversation and to discuss some of the projects queued for Western North Carolina counties.
The open house began with a short presentation on House Bill 817 — signed into law last summer, it “overhauls the way North Carolina funds transportation improvements, allowing NCDOT to make more efficient use of its existing revenues to fund more investments that improve the state’s transportation infrastructure, create jobs and help boost the economy,” according to the DOT.
“The law establishes the Strategic Mobility Formula, which uses a data-driven approach to provide more flexibility in funding transportation improvements on the statewide, regional and division level with the goal of meeting the state’s top priorities while still addressing individualized local needs.”
Following an update given on the future of the I-26 connector, NCDOT held a 30-day public comment period, spanning from Jan. 14 to Feb. 12.
Ten NCDOT staff members and two metropolitan and rural planning organizers were present to speak with attendees, and a comment sheet was passed out at the door to give citizens a chance to share their thoughts.
“In the coming weeks, each of the 14 NCDOT Transportation Divisions will submit its top transportation priorities to compete with other transportation improvements across the state for funding under the new formula,” reads the comment document. “To help determine these priorities, each division is asking local residents to provide their thoughts on which transportation improvements are most important.”
Mary Weber, Julie White and Claudia Nix attended the open house to address their concerns and disappointment with the lack of “bike or pedestrian projects on the table at the moment,” said White, who is a member of the Black Mountain Greenway Commission, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and Friends of Connect Buncombe, whose members strive to promote a county-wide greenway system in Buncombe County.
Weber, who is with the city of Asheville’s Multimodal Transportation Commission, added, “I was writing about the I-26 connector, and how I hope they don’t go with eight lanes [through Asheville] because I think that’s excessive. They just keep building wider and wider and wider, and there are studies that show people are actually starting to drive less, especially younger people. A lot of them just can’t afford cars, and I know there’s a huge demand for more alternative, bicycle-pedestrian transit.
“So we’re just really hoping that they will be thinking more not just for cars but also for other uses,” she continued. “A true multimodal project.”
Nix said she was concerned about the way the project prioritizes fixing and widening the straight portions of I-26 first, “rather than the curved bottlenecks that we have,” she said. “And it’s only going to make it worse. You have to take care of the bottlenecks first.”
Sarah Repoley attended the meeting just out of personal curiosity and to answer her questions about Merrimon Avenue. She said she felt positive about the open house and the NCDOT’s willingness to accept public input, although she was disappointed there were no projects planned for connecting Asheville to a passenger railway system.
“I feel like our questions are being answered, and we can kind of mull it over,” she said.