Asheville City Council

By next summer, Asheville bus riders will have a covered, heated and air-conditioned waiting area at the Coxe Avenue transit center. During their Nov. 9 work session, City Council members approved building a 540-square-foot waiting room, which will cost approximately $91,000.

That’s about $10,000 less than an Oct. 3 estimate, Council members noted. “We never had a problem with the design,” said Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger. “We just had a little sticker shock.”

To help ease that shock, architect Patty Glazer outlined the considerations that went into the final proposal: blending the new design with the existing ticket office and loading areas, and dealing with a 2-foot elevation difference between the ticket office and the likeliest location for the 45-seat waiting room. Glazer also mentioned an alternative to her proposal — buying two pre-fab buildings, each 10 feet by 26 feet, that would provide about the same amount of room. “One of the things that surprised me [about the pre-fab option] was the cost,” she said.

The pre-fab buildings run $47,000 each, and it would take another $18,000 to prepare a flat site, install electric lines and such, and rent a crane for the installation. Toss in design and consulting fees, and the total cost would come to $128,000, Glazer reported.

She also remarked that the structures have a temporary look, aesthetically speaking, and would pose greater security risks than a permanent waiting room attached to the existing ticket office.

Cloninger remarked that he was glad the pre-fabs cost too much, given their not-so-pleasing look and relatively short life span, compared to a permanent building. “If the cost [of the pre-fabs] were less, we’d be tempted,” he admitted.

City Manager Jim Westbrook indicated that funds for the permanent structure would come from the existing transit budget — with a little juggling of priorities. Council member Barbara Field said she hoped staff wouldn’t postpone providing more covered shelters at bus stops around the city in order to make room in the budget for the waiting room.

That said, Council members consented to the proposal and directed that it be formally approved as part of their Nov. 14 consent agenda.

“Folks standing at that transit center need to be protected,” declared Mayor Leni Sitnick. Currently, people waiting for a bus have no protection from rain, snow, wind or cold.

City goes alternative

Within a year, Asheville’s fleet may be infiltrated by alternative-fuel vehicles.

They won’t be electric cars, which produce none of the nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide generated by gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, explained Public Works Director Mark Combs. Instead, they’ll be powered by CNG — compressed natural gas, which produces up to 98 percent less air pollution than conventional vehicles.

As he spoke, an overhead projector displayed this tidbit of local data: Each day, vehicles in Buncombe County produce more than 22 tons of nitrogen oxide and 132 tons of carbon dioxide. “You’ve heard that perhaps 80 percent of our air pollution comes from outside the region; that doesn’t mean we should shrug it off and say there’s nothing we can do [locally],” Combs asserted. Converting at least some of the city fleet to CNG-powered vehicles is “one step we can take,” he argued.

But here’s the: CNG-powered vehicles cost 20 percent more, up front, than their gas/diesel counterparts. The city would also have to build a fast-fill station (at the existing facility in Buncombe, it takes 12 hours to fill a tank, which is good for about 120 miles). But Combs assured Council that a $300,000 state grant is available to the city for building the fast-fill station, and both Mission St. Joseph’s Hospital and Buncombe County officials have indicated they will participate in the project and help cover the overall costs.

Combs also noted these advantages: CNG costs less than half what gas or diesel does, and maintenance costs are typically low for CNG-powered vehicles.

“This is a bold and ambitious plan,” said Combs. Other potential partners include the U.S. Forest Service, city and county schools, and the average Joe. The state grant requires that the city make the fast-fill station open to the public, Combs explained. “We should advocate this plan because air pollution is the greatest problem facing this community in the coming years,” he added.

The total cost of creating a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles would be almost $1.2 million — one quarter to be paid by the state, one third by those who partner with the city, and the rest by the city. Combs noted that the estimated $480,455 cost for the first 21 vehicles would probably be offset by other grants the city will be seeking.

“I’m ready to adopt this plan,” said Mayor Sitnick.

‘[It] sounds great,” said Council member Brian Peterson. The city’s proactive step could encourage area residents to switch to such vehicles, he observed.

The city could also gradually replace its fleet of diesel-powered buses, Transit Director Bruce Black pitched in.

Council members directed staff to apply for the state grant and schedule a presentation for the public at an upcoming formal session.

“The only thing is … Exxon profits will go down,” Sitnick concluded.

Asheville honors

At their Nov. 9 work session, City Council members approved a proposal to create an Asheville Honors program.

Said program co-creator and former Asheville mayor Gene Ochsenreiter, “What we’d like to try to do is … honor individuals, businesses [and others] that are playing a very important part in what happens [to Asheville] in the future.”

Possible award categories include economics, the environment, culture, education and humanitarian, said idea co-creator Sara Bissette.

Council members approved the concept. Organizers plan to announce the program in pre-Thanksgiving advertisements.

Traffic calming around town

In the next few months, city officials and residents will tackle traffic problems on several Asheville streets. These thoroughfares — said to be among the worst in town in terms of speeding, pedestrian challenges, a history of crashes, and other factors — will be the first to get humped, bumped and more, as part of the city’s new $100,000 traffic-calming project: Wyoming Road in Kenilworth; Wood Avenue in Oakley; South French Broad Avenue from Phifer Street to Hilliard Avenue in Central Asheville; Gracelyn Road in North Asheville; Florida Avenue from Burton Street to Dorchester Avenue in West Asheville; and Caribou Road in Shiloh, from Hendersonville Road to the Interstate 40 overpass.

Traffic-study contract approved

DSAtlantic Corporation will update the travel-demand model for the Asheville Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Asheville City Council members indicated on Nov. 9.

“A travel-demand model is a tool [for] seeing how traffic moves on today’s traffic [volumes] and future traffic [volumes],” Transportation Planner Ron Fuller explained.

Such information often helps determine future road improvements in an area. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s recommendation that I-26 in West Asheville be expanded to eight lanes, for instance, was based on traffic-volume estimates made more than a decade ago.

Council members approved the contract, which will cost $145,300. The NCDOT will pay 80 percent of that cost; the city’s share is $29,060.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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