Only connect: An I-26 primer

As the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners gears up to endorse a plan for the future I-26 connector at its Tuesday, Jan. 6, meeting, Xpress offers a look at our coverage of many aspects of this controversial matter.

Construction on the connector — which would create a new highway crossing over the French Broad River, widening Interstate 240 in West Asheville and changing the configuration of the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange — is now slated to begin in 2013.

The project has been controversial for many years, as the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s proposed designs have drawn criticism from local groups that say those routes call for too many lanes and would negatively impact both the community and the environment. The Asheville Design Center has come out with a design known as 4b that it asserts would lead to less disruption and more economic benefit to the surrounding area. That alternative has been endorsed by Asheville City Council. Meanwhile, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has endorsed another plan, known as alternative 3.

Alternative 3 would demolish 24 homes in the largely African-American Burton Street neighborhood, along with displacing 61 homes in an Emma trailer park. A resolution passed by the chamber touts the fact that alternative 3 would leave Westgate shopping center, the Montford Historical district and developable land on the east side of the French Broad River untouched.

Both designs have their supporters among the commissioners, with Chair David Gantt and Commissioner Holly Jones backing 4b, while Commissioner Carol Peterson and Vice Chair Bill Stanley favor 3. That means that Commissioner K. Ray Bailey — who has not said which alternative he prefers — will likely cast the deciding vote.

Xpress has video simulations produced by the DOT of what each of the different plans would look like.

This is not the first time the board has wrangled with the I-26 decision. In a 3-2 vote a few weeks ago, the commissioners agreed to delay their vote before seemingly reversing course and calling for a special meeting, which was later cancelled due to a technicality.

Earlier, in September, an open house held by the DOT about the issue drew criticism of the department’s plans and support for 4b, as well as concerns about the effects the DOT’s alternatives would have on West Asheville.

In August, Asheville City Council heard reports on the wrangling between ADC and the DOT over 4b. In July, Xpress covered some of the changes made by DOT to the design center’s original plan. Residents and local groups have also criticized the DOT’s number of proposed lanes, and in 2004, the DOT agreed to continue testing to get more accurate traffic projections.

The issue has even reached up to the federal level, with Rep. Heath Shuler trying in 2007 to bring more attention to WNC’s highway needs, including I-26 and I-40.

The I-26 connector has been an issue since the late 1980s, and has been the subject of periodic news coverage since. Local residents and planners were filling the ballroom of the Asheville Renaissance Hotel back in 2000 to offer criticism and ideas for potential plans.

In 2003, Xpress reported on the long and tangled political history of the I-26 plan.

In 2007, the city of Asheville and DOT sparred, with state and federal officials criticizing the locally developed plan.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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