In a statement issued today, the Montford Neighborhood Association declares that all the currently proposed plans for the Interstate 26 highway connector are “a major threat to the quality of life in Asheville.”
The statement asserts that the proposed designs, including the two leading contenders, Alternatives 3 and 4b, have major flaws as currently configured, and calls on local and state government to revise them significantly.
“We are very concerned that this highway project, as presented, will degrade the cultural and economic resources of this neighborhood, which may in turn threaten the vitality of downtown,” the statement reads.
The controversial road project has been in the works for two decades. Plans include widening Interstate 240, building a new bridge across the French Broad River and revising the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange, also known as “malfunction junction.” Construction is planned to begin in 2014.
Alternative 4b, developed by the Asheville Design Center, is backed by Asheville City Council and is intended to have the least possible disruption on the community while opening up new urban areas for development.
However, according to an MNA report, several changes made by the North Carolina Department of Transportation undermine that goal and pose significant problems for the Montford community.
“We want the community to know that the Department of Transportation has made changes to alternate 4B that we believe will have a devastating impact on the river and on the Montford neighborhood, including two large flyovers and an extensive six-lane double-decker highway immediately adjacent to the historic Riverside Cemetery,” Lael Gray, coordinator for the MNA’s I-26 working group, says in a news release introducing the statement. “But we are equally concerned about the detrimental impacts of alternates 2, 3, and 4 on Asheville neighborhoods.”
Alternative 3, backed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and (narrowly) by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners would, its proponents say, be cheaper and result in shorter driving times. However, it would also destroy eight homes in the Burton Street community and leave the rest of the neighborhood facing a sound wall, as well as dislocate residents of an Emma trailer park. Alternative 4b would take two homes in the Burton Street area and have less impact on the community.
The MNA statement and accompanying report list that as another problem, as well as Alternative 3 not separating local traffic from I-26 bound vehicles, and “many traffic lanes merging at north end of Pearson [Drive].
The problem, according to the MNA, is that the plans have deviated from guidelines established by the Community Coordinating Committee in 2000. That committee involved community residents and representatives of the Federal Highway Administration, the state DOT, the city of Asheville and independent engineers and consultants. The series of guidelines it devised included matching the scale to the local community, reducing air pollution and separating local and interstate traffic.
“We believe that all four alternatives, as presented, require significant revisions to meet the community’s stated goals for the project,” the statement reads, encouraging the adoption of lower speeds near neighborhoods and a reduction in the project’s scale, among other measures.
The report also calls on the DOT to make all environmental and traffic data available in layperson’s terms and on city and county staff to conduct an extensive review before revising the proposed I-26 plans to better connect them with “greenways, mass transit, improvement to street corridors and neighborhood connections.”
The full text of the MNA news release announcing the statement is below.
— David Forbes, staff writer
Montford Neighborhood Association Declares I-26 Highway Project
a Major Threat to Quality of Life in Asheville
Calls On City Council & County Commissioners to Take Action to Protect Our Community
Asheville, NC—The Montford Neighborhood Association (MNA) recently issued a detailed and scathing position statement in response to the NC Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) current plans for bringing the I-26 Connector through the center of downtown Asheville, a project that they say “threatens the quality of life in Asheville.”
According to Lael Gray, coordinator of the MNA’s I-26 Connector Working Group, the Montford position addresses not only the negative impacts of the four proposed alternates on the Montford neighborhood, but also raises concerns about quality of life and environmental impacts for Asheville as a whole. The Montford position presents a comprehensive statement of support for existing community development guidelines and goals, particularly those expressed in the Community Coordinating Committee report of 2000, which the Montford neighborhood insists are not fully met by any of the current proposals.
“It’s important for Montford to weigh in on this issue since all of the plans will have a direct impact on our neighborhood,” said Gray. “We want the community to know that the Department of Transportation has made changes to alternate 4B that we believe will have a devastating impact on the river and on the Montford neighborhood, including two large flyovers and an extensive six -lane double-decker highway immediately adjacent to the historic Riverside Cemetery. But we are equally concerned about the detrimental impacts of alternates 2, 3, and 4 on Asheville neighborhoods.”
“This is not a ‘NIMBY’ response by Montford residents, advocating for the plan that has the least negative impact on us, but a statement of advocacy for the preservation of the quality of life in Asheville as a whole,” added Gray. “We cannot endorse any of the alternates because ALL of the plans violate adopted community standards and put someone’s neighborhood at risk. The citizens of Asheville must stand together in unity and demand that all of our neighborhoods are protected.”
In its report, the Montford Neighborhood Association demands compliance from the NCDOT with the Community Coordinating Committee’s project design goals for the I-26 connector project, adopted in 2000 with widespread community backing and support. The MNA wants assurance that the final plan for I-26 will meet the provisions of the Asheville City Development Plan 2025 and the NCDOT’s own “Complete Streets” policy, and that it will not compromise or in any way interfere with implementation of the Wilma Dykeman Riverway Plan, which calls for creation of a comprehensive greenway network in Asheville.
The MNA also wants action from City of Asheville staff, City Council members, and Buncombe County Commissioners.
“Unfortunately, the Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners have yet to take adequate steps to ensure DOT compliance with community standards and projects, which they themselves endorsed and supported,” said Karen Kellow, an MNA officer. “We are calling on City officials to take action immediately to protect the quality of life in Asheville that continues to be threatened by the I-26 connector project.”