City Council could reject DOT’s Merrimon plan

DIFFERING VISIONS: Asheville officials and residents have raised concerns over a DOT proposal to widen Merrimon Avenue. At its Feb. 13 meeting, City Council could approve a proposal to reject the DOT's plan and come up with alternatives. Image courtesy of the city of Asheville

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.”)

Consent agenda

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.

Proclamations

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.

Public hearings

No public hearings are scheduled for the Feb. 13 meeting.

Public comment

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.

For more of the latest city and county news, check out XpressBuncombe Beat.

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Carolyn Morrisroe served as news editor and reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @CarolynMorrisro

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13 thoughts on “City Council could reject DOT’s Merrimon plan

  1. Marc Hunt

    Take a look at the staff-prepared memo regarding Merrimon.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwKb_7xq91S2SDJIcTFKenhFdVJrQXdwbTJ1S3BrcmFOSE44/view
    Kudos and thanks to city staff, to the city’s boards and commissions, to advocates, and to Council members for drilling down and understanding model practices and the very complex policy and funding environment in which NC DOT implements projects in urban areas. This policy area is pretty overwhelming, and I think we are getting on top of it better now. We have real opportunities to work in closer partnership with DOT for better urban projects as a result.

  2. Curious

    Merrimon sidewalks are fairly walkable now, yet as I drive down Merrimon, I see walkers there only occasionally. Does the City think that wider sidewalks and street trees will turn it into a pedestrian shopping promenade? Do the types of business scattered along the Merrimon corridor attract walkers, going leisurely from place to place.

    Will someone, for example, have a pleasant lunch at Asheville Pizza and Brewing, and then stroll up to The Toy Box to browse, and then perhaps pick up a few groceries at the Fresh Market, before returning to her car at Asheville Pizza and Brewing? Or will she get in her car several times to make these shopping expeditions?

    Breakfast at Rise ‘n Shine, a walk down to drop off laundry at Swannanoa Cleaners, pick up some brewery supplies next door, then some vitamins at Asheville Compounding Pharmacy, a cross over to pick up a bottle of Bushmills at the ABC Store, back across for a a final stop at Wells Fargo to get cash at the ATM machine, and then a nice walk back to Merrimon Square, the site of Rise ‘n Shine? Or will this person get into his car after breakfast, drive along Merrimon, park along the way at each destination, and then, back in his car, drive home to Beaver Lake? Assuming he hasn’t walked up from Beaver Lake that morning to begin this urban excursion at Rise ‘n Shine.

    Perhaps these North Asheville residents will bike to these various destinations to do their errands and enjoy their day?

    • luther blissett

      “Or will this person get into his car after breakfast, drive along Merrimon, park along the way at each destination, and then, back in his car, drive home to Beaver Lake?”

      Always happy to poke fun at the Beaver Lake country club crowd, but your sense of North Asheville’s geography is failing you: the area around Edgewood Rd is legitimately residential. You could argue that residential areas off Patton Ave or Leicester Hwy or Hendersonville Road haven’t been well served and the nice middle-class North residents benefit from political clout, but it’s still a poor choice to turn that stretch of Merrimon into even more of a commuter drag, especially when Broadway exists as a route to 26.

      That said, I think the city’s showing some chutzpah to demand separated cycle lanes from NCDOT for this stretch when its attitude towards cyclists on city-maintained streets is to paint a line and a bike stencil near the curb and consider the job done. The justification appears to be based upon lower speed limits downtown. That’s not good enough. There needs to be continuity and consistency across city- and NCDOT-maintained streets, otherwise any efforts are just for show.

      • Fran

        You do realize almost every access to broadway from anything south of beaverlake requires cutting thru a residential neighborhood……

        • luther blissett

          “Anything south of Beaver Lake” includes the residential neighborhoods that apparently don’t want Merrimon turned into a five-lane drag.

    • Lulz

      LOL no they wouldn’t bike anywhere.

      This is another insane proposal by council in order to postpone progress AKA the Smokey Park bridge. Bothwell admitted as much with the spending on “studies”. These loons need to be kicked to the curb.

        • Enlightened Enigma

          the good food, beer and music/arts help mask all the other HUGE city problems that
          have zero leadership to resolve.

  3. Fran

    Im not sure the DOT proposal is the right one but that alternative concept if a complete joke.

  4. Dave

    To start, Merrimon Ave is and has been a main route north out of town down, since before most of council has been around. Merrimon ave is a business corridor. It has been in need of widening/turning lane for very many years. Now the the part that makes no sense. There are no bike lanes on Merrimon. NC dot proposes widening part of Merrimon, adding bike lanes, bigger sidewalks, etc.. So a small group of people on bicycles ride to council meeting to protest dot project, council proclaims a resolution against project, which based on past results of council doing this, tends to bring very long (years) delay in completion of projects, which means no widening and no bike lanes for the people who rode their bikes to the meeting . There is something just not quite right with this line of thinking .

  5. ApePeeD

    I can tell you why city council opposes it — the folks in North Asheville by Beaver Lake don’t want the traffic of a five lane highway roaring through their two-lane neighborhood, which should have been expanded many years ago.

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