I-26 connector alternative 4B gets back to its roots

When the Asheville Design Center first proposed Interstate 26 connector Alternative 4B in 2007, the idea was to run the highway beneath Patton Avenue so as to separate highway and local traffic and to allow for a boulevard connection from West Asheville to downtown. But when the North Carolina Department of Transportation finally acquiesced to include 4B among its own designs, the arrangement had been flipped, with the connector placed over Patton Avenue.

Heads or tails? The NC Department of Transportation has restored the I-26 connector alternative 4B design so that highway traffic would run beneath Patton Avenue. Image courtesy of the Asheville Design Center

Now the department says it will reconsider a design that has I-26 back beneath Patton, having resolved its earlier engineering issues with the plan.

"This was big for us," says ADC representative Alan McGuinn. "I would say the DOT is certainly working with us to make 4B the best it can be."

Since its introduction, 4B has picked up much community support, including a nod from Asheville City Council. But McGuinn notes that the design had lost some local support after it had been changed by DOT consultants, who initially said they could not design I-26 beneath Patton Avenue and still maintain federal highway standards.

The recent change, revealed in a meeting with DOT representatives earlier this month, may help assuage that criticism, which McGuinn says he hopes will give the design even more momentum.

"This will help to build more consensus in the community," he says.

DOT Design Engineer Jay Swain tells Xpress that the consultants working on connector alternatives were at first unable to make the over-under design meet federal highway regulations. But given more time, they found a way. Leverage was also provided by Asheville, Buncombe County and Figg Engineering Group, the firm hired by the city and county to help examine 4B when it was introduced. "They knew it could work," says Asheville's Director of Public Works Cathy Ball.

"The city and county pushed on it," Swain says. "We heard this as being a desire, and we asked our consultants to work on it."

The change also reduces the projected cost of 4B's construction, though it remains the most expensive alternative to build, according to the DOT. The updated design would cost $279 million instead of the previously estimated $292 million, Swain says. Two other alternatives in the running would cost $232 million and $165 million.

Swain notes the DOT will conduct more public input and information sessions in the spring before a decision is made next summer on which alternative to construct. But, he says, it appears the latest Patton Avenue design will remain on the table. "I imagine [this] will be the 4B we will consider, because that's what everyone wanted."

Meanwhile, McGuinn says, there are still some small revisions worth pursuing on the DOT's version of 4B, including design features that will save more houses and have less impact on neighborhoods near the connector.

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