Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Lutovsky told Xpress today that despite concerns raised about the Alternative 3 proposal for the I-26 connector, he still feels it is “best for the community in general” and superior to the Asheville Design Center’s Alternative 4b.
Alternative 3 would demolish 25 homes in the predominantly African-American Burton Street neighborhood, as well as homes in an Emma trailer park. A total of 61 residences and 17 businesses would be demolished if the plan is selected (construction is currently slated to begin in 2013). Alternative 4b, devised by the ADC to take as little land as possible, would displace 23 homes and 15 businesses. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners considers which alternative to endorse tomorrow, Jan. 6.
“We had to weigh the impacts on the community in general,” Lutovsky said. “Obviously, to an individual that’s going to lose their home the impact is very great. But this is just a recommendation. The state’s asked us for our input, and we’ve given it.”
He added that the chamber is encouraging the state’s engineers to look for possible ways to reduce the size of the construction around Burton Street and reduce the impact.
The advantages over 4b, Lutovsky said, included the fact that “cars go under Patton instead of on flyover bridges like in [4b].” The ADC has noted that the flyover bridges were a feature added by North Carolina Department of Transportation engineers, and that that could change.
“There are features in 4 and 4b designed to separate local and interstate traffic, but they end up [adding] almost another half mile, by our estimates, to someone looking to get from Chunn’s Cove to Sam’s Club,” Lutovsky said. “That’s not something citizens should have to go through.”
He asserts that some of the advantages touted by 4b’s proponents, such as additional land on the tax rolls through a connection to downtown, are a mirage.
“A lot of that land is tied up in state-owned right-of-ways,” Lutovsky said. “For it to be developable, they’d have to sell it. Generally they’re reluctant to do that even if there are no current plans to develop it because they might need it in the future.”
Cost is another factor, though Lutovsky noted the chamber made its assessment “regardless of the cost.” The DOT’s estimates put the cost of 4b at nearly $160 million more than 3, something the ADC has challenged, saying that better design and less land acquisition costs would reduce the final price tag for 4b. At the commissioners’ last meeting, in December, ADC planners argued for a delay so their proposal could be better assessed and new traffic data from state engineers could emerge.
Lutovsky, however, thinks the cost estimates are accurate and doesn’t see a need for delay.
“What statistics and numbers are we waiting on here?” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t seen any engineer tell me they’re out there. This isn’t rocket science: Once you figure the cost of steel, concrete and construction you can estimate the cost.”
However, he said, “We’ve invited the design center to meet with our executive committee, we’d cleared out our schedules, and they couldn’t make it. We’d welcome them to come talk to us about this issue.”
ADC Chair Joe Minicozzi has told Xpress that invitations to meet with the chamber have come with insufficient notice and that he felt the ADS hasn’t had the opportunity to fully make their case before the chamber endorsed Alternative 3.
In its resolution supporting Alternative 3, the chamber also noted that it minimized impact on the Montford Historical District, the Westgate shopping center and developable land on the east side of the French Broad River.
— David Forbes, staff writer