A June 11 presentation at the Asheville Design Center on the group’s alternative plan for the much-disputed Interstate 26 connector drew a visit from N.C. Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett. A host of other public officials also attended the unpublicized meeting, including state Reps. Susan Fisher and Bruce Goforth, state Sen. Tom Apodaca, Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, City Council members Bryan Freeborn and Brownie Newman, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey, Commissioner Carol Peterson and Transportation Board member Alan Thornburg. The meeting was arranged by Goforth.
Proponents say the Design Center’s plan would save at least $100 million, compared with a projected $314 million to $371 million for the Department of Transportation’s preferred alternatives. The alternative plan would require roughly one-third as much asphalt and half as much land, while returning frontage along the current combined Interstate 240/Patton Avenue corridor to the city for development. It would also add pedestrian and bicycle lanes to the Smokey Park Bridge and require less than half the total number of bridges over the French Broad River advocated by state planners (four versus nine).
The press was not invited to the meeting, but several participants said later that those present had expressed their desire to see this plan included in the DOT’s environmental-impact statement, which is slated for completion by the end of this year. Thornburg said the agency is analyzing the highway plan and will present its preliminary findings to the Asheville City Council on June 26. The DOT is expected to choose a final plan by January 2008.
“Based upon the comments that were made, the plan is going to get a good preliminary evaulation,” Bellamy told Xpress after the meeting.
Newman concurred, saying, “I think it was very positive. Tippett seemed to listen carefully to the presentation. He made several positive remarks about how the design would benefit the community. Mayor Bellamy, Commissioner Carol Peterson and members of the legislative delegation all communicated that this design is what the community wants.” Newman added that he hopes Tippett will “communicate with his DOT staff to give the proposal a fair hearing and to try to find a way to support the proposal, rather than trying to find reasons it can’t be done.”
Meanwhile, the Design Center, which has presented its ideas to more than 50 community groups and municipal bodies, reportedly received a mixed reception at a June 8 Council of Independent Business Owners breakfast. “I think there were several open-minded people there, and several with closed minds,” CIBO member Dwight Butner, an Asheville restaurateur, told Xpress. “I heard a couple of people expressing concern that a new design would take longer, but it seems like a smaller project that costs less may actually be quicker.” He added, “I think they’re going to take a really hard look at it.”