A decade in the planning, the I-26 Connector through Asheville may finally be ready for its close-up. Over the years, the six-or-eight-lane argument and the prospect of a new I-240 bridge (including an option for that structure designed by local volunteer architects) have both provided Asheville with plenty of discussion and political drama. And now the plans are closing in on fruition.
On Tuesday, Sept. 16, the public is invited to see an assortment of drafts, maps and alternatives in a public hearing hosted the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The hearing is a necessary step in the approval of the Environmental Impact Study that will play a large part in the selection of a final design.
Judging from an announcement on the city of Asheville’s Web site (www.ashevillenc.gov), the presentation and hearing will cover a gamut of technical issues like rights-of-way and the impact on homes and businesses in the path of the new highway.
For the I-26 Connector Awareness Group, which for the past 10 years has been advocating for a less-intrusive highway, the meeting may already be viewed as a flawed one, group member Ron Ainspan tells Xpress. A chief objection: None of the DOT’s options consider less than eight lanes where the highway cuts through West Asheville. The group has long argued that the DOT’s original traffic projections for the stretch were bloated.
Nonetheless, Ainspan says, community input is important at the meeting so that state planners get the message that the community is deeply invested in this project.
“When people don’t show up, the DOT assumes what they are proposing is OK with [the community] and they will move ahead with it,” he says. “It’s really important for people to show up.”
Also on display will be the alternatives for the I-240 bridge from West Asheville to downtown. On Aug. 19, a DOT official told Asheville City Council that the highly popular bridge design submitted by local nonprofit Asheville Design Center was not yet officially on the EIS document, but that it will be included at the hearing alongside the DOT’s designs.
The open house and public hearing on the I-26 Connector will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 16, in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Asheville Hotel. The open house will happen from 3 to 6:30 p.m., and the hearing will begin at 7 p.m.