Montford group declares opposition to all I-26 plans

In a statement issued Aug. 26, the Montford Neighborhood Association declared that each of the current proposals for the I-26 connector poses "a major threat to the quality of life in Asheville."

The MNA asserts that the proposed design alternatives, including leading contenders 3 and 4b, have major flaws as now configured. It calls on local and state government to revise them significantly.

"We are very concerned that this highway project, as presented, will degrade the cultural and economic resources of this neighborhood, which may in turn threaten the vitality of downtown," the statement reads.

The controversial road project has been in the works for two decades. Plans include widening Interstate 240, building a new bridge across the French Broad River and revising the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange, which is known as "Malfunction Junction." Construction is planned to begin in 2014.

Alternative 4b, developed by the Asheville Design Center, is backed by Asheville City Council and is intended to cause the least possible disruption on the community, while also making new land available for urban development.

However, according to an MNA report, several changes made by the North Carolina Department of Transportation undermine that goal and pose significant problems for the Montford community.

"We want the community to know that the Department of Transportation has made changes to alternate 4B that we believe will have a devastating impact on the river and on the Montford neighborhood, including two large flyovers and an extensive six-lane double-decker highway immediately adjacent to the historic Riverside Cemetery," wrote Lael Gray, coordinator for MNA's I-26 working group, in a news release introducing the statement and an accompanying report. "But we are equally concerned about the detrimental impacts of alternates 2, 3, and 4 on Asheville neighborhoods."

Alternative 3, backed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and (narrowly) by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners would be cheaper and result in shorter driving times, proponents say. But it would destroy eight homes in the Burton Street area of West Asheville and leave the adjacent neighborhood facing a sound wall. And it would also dislocate residents of an Emma trailer park. Alternative 4b would take only two Burton Street homes.

The MNA statement and report cited the displacement and destruction of homes as a problem with Alternative 3, and they also criticized that alternative for not separating local traffic from I-26 bound vehicles and for merging many lanes of traffic "at the north end of Pearson [Drive]."

According to the MNA, the plans deviate from guidelines established in 2000 by the Community Coordinating Committee, which was made up of local residents as well as representatives of the Federal Highway Administration, the state DOT, the city of Asheville and independent engineers and consultants. The series of guidelines it devised included matching the project's scale to the local community, reducing air pollution and separating local and interstate traffic.

"We believe that all four alternatives, as presented, require significant revisions to meet the community's stated goals for the project," the statement reads, encouraging the adoption of lower speeds near residential neighborhoods and a reduction in the project's scale, among other measures.

The report also calls on the DOT to make all environmental and traffic data available in layperson's language and asks city and county staff to conduct an extensive review before revising the proposed I-26 plans to better integrate them with "greenways, mass transit, improvement to street corridors and neighborhood connections."

To see the MNA statement and report on the I-26 alternatives, go to The Xpress Files at mountainx.com/xpressfiles.

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