In a May 10 “Doughnuts and Dialogue” event at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Division Engineer Jay Swain of the North Carolina Department of Transportation updated close to 50 attendees on the I-26 connector project, which is slated to begin construction in 2012.
“The whole goal is to separate I-26 traffic from local traffic,” he explained. “There is chronic congestion due to the intersection of three interstates. That’s the monster we’re trying to tackle with the project.”
Swain acknowledged the work of the Asheville Design Center, a group of volunteer architects that has proposed its own plan for the project (see “Commissioners Spar, then Approve Countywide Zoning,” May 9 Xpress). “We have looked at their model and had some discussions, and are in the process of looking at some specific details,” he said. “Preliminarily, there is concern with some issues about the route they’re suggesting. Hopefully, within 30 days or so we’ll have a very good preliminary view and decide if it is an alternate we should consider.
“Our top priority is to keep on schedule,” Swain explained, noting that in order to begin buying property in 2009 and meet the construction-start goal, DOT has to make a final decision on the project design this December. Highway safety, he said, was also a crucial consideration in the design process.
Asked if the ADC design—which is touted as requiring significantly less land and pavement and fewer bridges than the DOT’s proposals—might find favor due to cost savings, Swain told Xpress: “It is an alternate we have looked at for a few months. Whether that would truly be a reduced cost, we just don’t know yet. We still feel confident about our alternates; whether [the ADC plan] is that low an impact or whether it is worthwhile to pursue, we have to determine.”
As for the ADC suggestion that Asheville would be best served by a pedestrian-friendly bridge with an aesthetically pleasing design, Swain said the state can’t afford it but suggested that if local funding can be found, the DOT might consider such a plan.
Swain fielded a wide range of questions from attendees, both about I-26 and about local roads. He said that DOT is “using technology to move traffic more efficiently” and predicted that drivers will soon notice that computer-coordinated signals on Merrimon and Patton avenues are moving traffic much more smoothly through the city.