The city of Asheville is poised to formally express its displeasure with the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to widen Merrimon Avenue.
At its Feb. 13 meeting, City Council will consider a resolution to reject the DOT’s plan to widen Merrimon from four lanes to five with a center turn lane and to ask staff to work with DOT to come up with alternatives. A staff memo lays out the city’s concerns with the current proposal, including diminished safety, inadequate pedestrian and bicycle access, and a lack of street trees.
“Changing Merrimon to make it look and feel like Tunnel Road or Leicester Highway is not … the best fit for this corridor or for Asheville,” the memo states.
City staff suggest alternative designs such as a “road diet” model that uses dedicated turn lanes and better controls driveway access to the street.
DOT unveiled plans in January to widen Merrimon Avenue from its intersection with W.T. Weaver Boulevard to an area close to Fenner Avenue. Along with a new center left-turn lane, the $2.8 million project would also widen the existing lanes, add a 2-foot-wide bicycle lane and a 2-foot-wide gutter on either side of the roadway, and add 6-foot-wide sidewalks on either side of the street.
At its Jan. 23 meeting, City Council members bemoaned the dearth of communication from DOT about the project. (See “Residents to DOT: Let us participate in Merrimon planning.”)
After several snow and ice events this season, Asheville’s supply of road salt is running low. An item on the consent agenda asks to move $461,212 from the General Fund for storm response materials. A staff memo states the city budgeted $140,000 for fiscal year 2017-18, which allowed it to fill its 4,000-ton salt storage facility. Even after restocking the supply throughout the winter, the salt supply is at only 10 percent of capacity.
After its initial announcement at the Jan. 23 meeting, City Council could finalize a proposal to rename Lakewood Park in honor of Leah Chiles, the first woman mayor in North Carolina and a founder of the town of Kenilworth before its annexation by Asheville.
The city will consider authorizing a $53,500 local match for a grant to buy four hybrid battery packs for buses.
Council could approve a budget amendment of $152,504 to improve mobility for seniors and individuals with disabilities by removing transportation barriers, part of a federal grant program.
In December, the city authorized a $1.1 million contract with B. Allen Construction to revamp the entrance and visitor center at the WNC Nature Center. Now, staff are asking Council to OK an additional $60,000 to cover unforeseen infrastructure issues such as shoddy stormwater pipes.
Asheville will switch up which firm it uses to audit its financial statements. An item on the consent agenda asks Council to approve a contract with RSM US LLP for auditing services for fiscal year 2017-18. RSM was the highest-scoring firm of three that submitted bids. The firm that audited the past few years of city financials, Cherry Bekaert LLP, was not eligible because city policy requires a change of independent auditor every five years.
Council will consider a $116,378 contract with Green Light Electric to put in pedestrian traffic signals at South Charlotte Street and Biltmore Avenue.
Council will consider resolutions to declare February as “Black History Month” in Asheville and Feb. 10-17 as “Love Asheville Go Local Week.”
Presentation and reports
City Council is slated to hear three reports:
First, the city will hear about progress on the Blue Ribbon Committee on the Human Relations Commission. Last year, the city planted the seeds for a Human Relations Commission to nourish racial diversity, equity and inclusion. The Blue Ribbon Committee, tasked with developing recommendations on the mission, scope and duties of a Human Relations Commission, has met 11 times since August. It will present Council with a report on proposed focus areas, membership criteria and duties for the commission.
Second, the Asheville Tree Commission will present an “Urban Forest Sustainability and Management Review.”
Third, Council will get an annual report on non-revenue water usage and operations.
No public hearings are scheduled for the Feb. 13 meeting.
Council will hear comment from members of the public on items not previously discussed on Council’s agenda.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.
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