DOT drops an I-26 Connector alternative

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has revised the project alternatives for the I-26 Connector project in Asheville. Alternative 5, which would have crossed the French Broad River parallel to the Smoky Mountain Parkway, has been eliminated from further consideration due to operational concerns. Studies in progress on the other project alternatives are not affected.

“After preliminary designs were developed for Alternative 5, traffic studies showed that the proposal would not provide motorists a safe merging distance between the U.S. 19/23 and Montford Avenue interchanges and would generate additional congestion along the route,” said DOT Project Manager Vince Rhea. “These concerns have led us to discontinue studies on this alternative and continue moving forward studying other options.”

In a recent round of discussions with the city of Asheville and the Asheville Design Center, a local group of volunteer architects which has pitched its own solution to the I-26 puzzle, DOT has remained insistent that its designs are better. In 1997, the department determined that a new road would require eight lanes, and it remains committed to its plan despite two subsequent studies that showed original estimates to be in excess of actual traffic over the next few decades. The ADC plan requires about two-thirds of the pavement, four instead of nine bridges and substantially less land acquisition, but proponents of the DOT plans say that the local plan will slow completion of the job. Originally slated for completion in 2008, construction may now commence in 2012.

— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer

SHARE
About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

19 thoughts on “DOT drops an I-26 Connector alternative

  1. curmudgeon

    Cecil, I’m still on my 1st cup of coffee, so forgive me. Are you saying that the rejected alternative 5 is the one developed by the Asheville Design Center?
    If so, then my next question is, why did they reject the whole design because of one flaw? The ADC plan seems far and away better than the DOT plan, so you’d think they could figure out this small problem.

  2. I think we need to get out of DOT’s way and get the bridges BUILT.

    Want to know why? Look at Malfunction Junction any day about five, I-240 across Smoky Park bridge, or just about anywhere on that side of Asheville. Calculate all the zillions of hours of wasted time and fuel from stalled traffic.

    All other considerations pale in comparison… let’s get the traffic moving.

  3. Aliasjoe

    Ralph:
    You’ve just made the point of the ADC exactly. Look at what DOT has created. The ADC is basically trying to make the same product in less space and less land consumption. The ADC design is also less confusing. Look at DOT Alternate #4 and look at the ADC’s version of the same connection. 273 acres of Right-of-way by DOT vs. 135 by the ADC and 89 acres of asphalt by DOT vs. 36 acres for the ADC. Additionally, two of the DOT schemes still on the table keep the current condition of Smoky Park Bridge (where interstate traffic is mixed with a local road) eventhough the community voted unanimously to not continue this in 2000. I don’t think anyone is in DOT’s way. The federal government establishes a process of community input and analysis in order to keep localities from getting paved over without input. This is all anyone is doing. It is picular that the report from 2000 isn’t recieving the prominence that is mandated by the Feds. If anything, NCDOT is jepordizing their federal funding, but that’s not for us to decide, we’re just looking for a solution to a problem. If you want more information on any of this, we’d be glad to explain any of it, show the data, designs and options at the Asheville Design Center at 8 College St, downtown. A lot of it is on the web, at http://www.ashevilledesigncenter.org and our hours are 5:30-7pm every Wed. night. Also, the ADC is having a 1 year birthday party this Friday from 5-7PM if you want to check it out. We have a great model that explains everything.
    Regards,
    Joe Minicozzi, AICP
    Asheville Design Center, Secretary

  4. Aliasjoe

    Ralph:
    You’ve just made the point of the ADC exactly. Look at what DOT has created. The ADC is basically trying to make the same product in less space and less land consumption. The ADC design is also less confusing. Look at DOT Alternate #4 and look at the ADC’s version of the same connection. 273 acres of Right-of-way by DOT vs. 135 by the ADC and 89 acres of asphalt by DOT vs. 36 acres for the ADC. Additionally, two of the DOT schemes still on the table keep the current condition of Smoky Park Bridge (where interstate traffic is mixed with a local road) eventhough the community voted unanimously to not continue this in 2000. I don’t think anyone is in DOT’s way. The federal government establishes a process of community input and analysis in order to keep localities from getting paved over without input. This is all anyone is doing. It is peculiar that the report from 2000 isn’t receiving the prominence that is mandated by the Feds. If anything, NCDOT is jeopardizing their federal funding, but that’s not for us to decide, we’re just looking for a solution to a problem. If you want more information on any of this, we’d be glad to explain any of it, show the data, designs and options at the Asheville Design Center at 8 College St, downtown. A lot of it is on the web, at http://www.ashevilledesigncenter.org and our hours are 5:30-7pm every Wed. night. Also, the ADC is having a 1 year birthday party this Friday from 5-7PM if you want to check it out. We have a great model that explains everything.
    Regards,
    Joe Minicozzi, AICP
    Asheville Design Center, Secretary

  5. you can say it twice, Joe… but I don’t care how much land it takes, I don’t care how it looks, it just needs to be DONE… and soon. ADC and Asheville city council are simply not qualified to tell DOT how to do it and years too late to get into the process now. Just get out of the way, please. We NEED that road finished.

    Thank you.

  6. curmudgeon

    Ralph, may I suggest you chill. I feel your pain, buddy, but really, nobody is dying from Asheville traffic. I grew up in LA, so I have a bit of perspective.

    This is a huge project and whichever design is chosen, it will be a major construction mess for years. Don’t you think it’s worth the time to figure out how to do it right so it only has to be done once?

  7. curmudgeom, my friend, the problem is NOT an Asheville one, it’s a problem that affects the whole southeast… Asheville is a bottleneck, the only major one on I-26 … by selfish and arrogant actions, one little town (Asheville) is holding up the traveling public in general, not just us locals.

    and it’s all for naught… anyone who’s been here any time can tell you DOT does what they had originally planned in the end, anyway… in the meantime, they delay your project just for hassling them.

    let them build what they want… now. Thanks.

  8. Aliasjoe

    I said it twice by mistake. In any case, let me say it a different way. Saving 100 acres of land that could potentially create $5 million /yr to the county coffers is a good thing. That’s just the county return, and this still meets the same objectives of DOT. That’s money that will be taken off the tax rolls if DOT does it with more right of way. Losing that land off the tax base affects Asheville too. As a taxpayer to Asheville and Buncombe County, its just stupid to take land unnecessarily off the tax base. I don’t want to subsidize the needs of my city by deferring the revenue on to increasing residential tax base. The money it takes to run a city has to come from some place and there is only so much land to go around.
    Now on to qualifications.
    I am trained in designing cities and practice it for a living. I have a degree in architecture and a masters in urban design with a concentration in real estate development. I’ve been practicing city planning for over a decade in the public and private sectors. Add this to the other members of the volunteer group, and we’re collectively over a century of experience in planning/building cities. Collectively, we’ve contributed about $300k of billable time as volunteers to make a better product. We didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, we’re trying to help our community. Also, considering that I am a taxpayer (share-holder) in this corporation called “Asheville” and I happen to know the trade, I’d like to get a better product that returns a better investment on the community. This is what its about. Would you publish a book with the first draft or would you refine with edits? Why then, should we rush into making a city on the first draft? Afterall, the DOT first published their alternate #5 two years ago, and they just discovered it failed their own criteria last month. So far, we are in the draft review process set by the feds/state. The City isn’t slowing anything down. They’re required by the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review period to put their comments in while it is in the “draft” period, which we are in until its closed (I think at the end of this year). A member of CIBO said it best to me when he quoted his grandfather, a carpenter, in saying “it is better to measure twice and cut once. We need to do this, but we will live with this for a very long time. Let’s get it right.” We do NEED this connection, but we also NEED it right, not wrong.

  9. a) $5 million a year for 100 acres? I know our property taxes are ungodly high but they’re nothing like THAT.

    b) you folk in Asheville just don’t get it… I would like to see DOT say the ‘heck’ with Asheville and go around, except that would delay it longer… or maybe not, eh?

  10. Aliasjoe

    a. Downtown real estate coughs up around $250,000/acre to Buncombe County. We are assuming that if the project area goes to “urban Village” zoning as suggested in our 2025 Plan, then it will be close to downtown value, especially given its proximity to downtown, therefore we assumed that it’d be safe to suggest $50,000/acre return. I know this is just an educated guess based upon existing market conditions, but its a start. Heck, gaining $10, would be better for our coffers than not having that $10.
    b. The decision to go through the City rather than go around was made close to 20 years ago, or longer in the past. I don’t know if its possible to go back and undo that decision, or even if that’d be better. Plus, the pros and cons of ring-road vs. through-road are pretty much equal. There are goods and bads with both. I know that turning the machine of the body politic to re-evaliuate that decision AND getting DOT to change its path would probably take many times the 20 years that has passed. I think I’d have more luck growing hair on my head than seeing that happen. We’ve accepted the path we’re on, just trying to make it better/faster/cheaper/more beautiful/etc.

  11. thommy

    Yeah, Ralph!

    I agree. it is durn time that someone spoke up against all these anti-progress asheville flatlander yankees. they should consider themselves lucky that they even have a freeway running through their town. and i, like you, see that anyone who disagrees or want some liberal mamsy-pamsy “community oversight” is just showing how they are just trying to be difficult becuase they dont have to serve in any wars.

    “We need another vietnam, that’ll think their ranks a little”

    I saw, if the Dept. of Transportation says so, then let em do it. the traffic is so bad I sometimes might have to slow down for a few minutes!! it’s outrageous!

    and who is this guy, aliasjoe? just because he has a fancy-schmancy degree from some flatlander college in city planning he links he knows something about city planning?!? Please!

    it is all the wacko liberals who are making it hard for asheville to be a functionaing city.

  12. but… Joe… this is the same problem over and over, you guys are looking at it from the Asheville viewpoint again and the vast majority of us are NOT in Asheville. We have rights, too.

  13. Rebecca Nelson-Denmark

    If the ADC can complete the project with “Asheville” in mind, it is better for the city as a whole. I agree with curmudgeon – I grew up in Atlanta – spent 20+ years in the city and watched it’s rural farmlands and mountainscapes disappear. The ADC should continue to keep the Asheville viewpoint. That is part of the beauty of living in this city – modern conveniences, yet a GREAT sense of community. If you don’t like here and are not in Asheville, why don’t you just move to city where the DOT dominates the road patterns. Spend a year in Atlanta – then tell me about Asheville’s traffic problem. Good job ADC!

  14. Aliasjoe

    Ralph,
    The people that choose to live way the heck out in the surrounding region can do that. But you also need to be aware of the ramifications of your decisions. I’d love to do it to, but once I move out, stuff follows me. Like more strip malls, more asphalt, more housing, etc. Then, the exact reason why I chose the isolation is gone. That’s the problem with sprawl. People cause it, and I’ve never seen an example where a city can keep its rural environment in an area where growth is occurring. Heck, even in areas where there is no growth, uncontrolled development in the periphery will still over-run the rural character. So I chose to live in Asheville to put my money where my mouth is, as well as my job and 90% of my needs. Additionally, in order to not see the mountains over-run with development, I don’t live on one. But those are my choices. Now, back to your choice to live out there. You need this highway for your connection to the region, which is fine. I only ask that you minimize your impact on me. We’re all connected in this, and your decisions impact me as much as mine may impact you. You may feel that I am delaying your expedience of travel, I feel that if we do the connection in a short-sighted manner, my city will have many problems that I will have to pay for in the future. You’ll get your connection, I only ask that you allow us to help make it better for us as well. We’re not saying don’t make it, just make it well. You do have rights. That’s undeniable. But realize that I have rights too. Please respect them. You made a choice to live out there, and folks that chose to live in the City shouldn’t have to pay for your choice by sacrificing their own property.

  15. dankster

    thommy – “We need another Vietnam, that’ll think their ranks a little” – That comment was totally uncalled for.

  16. Joe, lots of us did not “move out” … we’ve always been here.

    The point is no one place can deny the traveling public free passage. Asheville, in the past few years, has taken on an alien way of thinking to these mountains; a selfish and arrogant mode of thought that would and is unacceptable where you came from, so why do you believe we’re going to embrace it here?

    If we have to grow (and all you people moving in have ordained that) then let’s GROW. Stop impeding progress. Build the tall buildings, span the streams with great bridges, eight-lane the mother out of the Interstates. You can’t have it both ways.

  17. Aliasjoe

    Actually, we’re sugesting that you can have it both ways. Please try to look at the presentation on-line or stop by the Design Center. We are just trying to follow best practices in planning with an eye toward growth. I think you’ll find that the Design Center agrees with growth, we just don’t want to make an obvious mistake for the sake of expediency. There are plenty of lessons to learn from, but it first takes learning.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.