Montford Neighborhood Association declares opposition to all current I-26 plans

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.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

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.

12 thoughts on “Montford Neighborhood Association declares opposition to all current I-26 plans

  1. BGCauble

    All the complaining in the world is not going to change the fact that this road is way past needing to be built. Where would the Montford Community suggest this road go since they are loudly complaining about it being in their back yard? Tired of the “NIMBY’S.” Get the road built already!

  2. Hill Street Resident

    Alternative 4B would also take out houses in the Hill Street area–not just on Burton Street. We need to broaden our view of this issue to encompass all impacted neighborhoods.

  3. hanna

    I am very concerned about the effects of connector I-26 and hope it doesn’t go through. Asheville is too small for such a huge highway system . I think people will use the proposed roads to by pass Asheville on their way to other towns. This will greatly affect the businesses in our community. The small town mountain atmosphere will disappear as well as the tourist trade.But the most pressing problem would be in the air quality..asthma is already on the rise for adults as well as children in Asheville. The noise pollution is another concern.Better nothing than something we can’t live with.

  4. This article continues to reinforce the myth that option 4-B, as presented by the NCDOT, is the same as the Asheville Design Center plan. It is not. Rather it is a Frankenstein’s monster version of the ADC plan, rooted in outmoded assumptions about traffic patterns, excessive speed limits and other design criteria.

    As Jane Lubchenco, a Harvard-trained marine ecologist and new chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in Asheville a couple of weeks ago: “We need to rethink our transportation and agricultural systems, our city planning and water and sewer …. So many of those things have been designed for the climate of the past 100 years and not for the climate we’ll see in the next 100 years.”

    Do we need a 65 mph highway through Asheville? Other cities work with 50 and 55 limits (as does I-240 today).
    Do you think you’ll need to get on I-240 to go from West Asheville to downtown, if the Smoky Park bridge reverts to local-only? NCDOT says “yes.”

    USDOT statistics show that automobile use in this country peaked about 20 months ago, and has dropped monthly since then. Fuel prices are galloping ahead of economic recovery and are expected to head back toward last year’s record highs as the recession abates. We may have passed peak auto use in the United States and any serious attempt to control carbon emissions will move more freight to the rails and away from long-distance trucking.

    NCDOT is ignoring the 21st century realities and I fully support the Montford Neighborhood Association in its opposition to DOT’s outmoded plans.

  5. Good points Cecil. And remember NCDOT designed the current malfunction junction why should we let them do it again. The best designers do not work for the state; in fact I think the opposite may be true.

  6. By the way, concerning the “hurry up” argument. I was a reporter in the early 90s when NCDOT told Asheville that if we didn’t have 8 lanes on I-26 by 2002 we would experience gridlock. Check.

    By 2002 they were telling us that we needed 8 lanes by 2010 or we would suffer. Check.

    Now they say we need to let them START building 8 lanes by 2013 or so. Uh huh.

    In 2006 I asked a senior official in NCDOT if they had considered peak oil or carbon emissions reduction in their I-26 plans, I was told that they were not PERMITTED to consider such information. So we are stuck with 20 year old plans that they still insist are the right ones for our city, despite very significant changes in transportation, fuel availability and cost, economic conditions and political sensibilities.

  7. About that

    [b]So we are stuck with 20 year old plans that they still insist are the right ones for our city, despite very significant changes in transportation, fuel availability and cost, economic conditions and political sensibilities. [/b]

    Unless, of course, the purpose of updating I-26 is not entirely for ‘civilian’ benefit.

  8. BGCauble

    Cecil, now I’m seriously having my doubts about voting for you. You must not have to drive over 240 very much, from either direction. Constant wrecks and near misses from traffic trying to go towards Weaverville, both from east and west. Fine, folks don’t like the plans currently on the table. What else do you suggest? And, when do you suggest it be done? Quit making grand statements and come up with a solution. It cannot remain as it is.

  9. About that

    [b]Fine, folks don’t like the plans currently on the table. What else do you suggest? And, when do you suggest it be done? Quit making grand statements and come up with a solution. It cannot remain as it is. [/b]

    Clearly, you have no knowledge on the topic, “BG”, or you would know that the Asheville Design Center has had a VERY feasible suggestion for years now.

    Cecil even discusses it in this thread.

    Your argument holds absolutely NO water.

  10. BGCauble

    About that, I’ll spell it out for you. You’re getting off point. The Montford group is saying no plans are acceptable. Cecil says he supports the Montford group, so that makes him sound like he also is against all designs on the table. This story is about the how “Montford Neighborhood Association declares opposition to all current I-26 plans.” I want to know what the Montford Association would suggest be done because they are saying even the Asheville Design Center suggested route does not work. Please stick to the topic.

  11. Hey, BG, I never said that we didn’t need to fix the mess that NCDOT handed us with spaghetti junction. I agree that the I-26/I-240/Patton mash-up is terrible, but none of the plans the DOT wants to build really suit the community here. (If it’s true, as many say, that they are really designing a route for nuclear fuel transport for the feds, they should at least tell us that.)

    Here’s what I suggest, and it is drawn principally from studying and reporting on the ADC suggestions for the past few years.
    1. Separate local and through traffic, making Patton Ave. and Smoky Park Bridge a local boulevard connecting West Asheville to downtown.
    2. Run I-240 north around Hillcrest to connect with I-26.
    3. Duck I-240/I-26 UNDER Patton on the West side of the river.
    4. Maintain the 50 mph speed limit on I-240 and on I-26 through the city.
    5. Maintain 4 lanes on I-26 and I-240 with 6 as needed for on and off ramps.
    6. Do not imagine that any local person will need to use the interstate to travel east-west across downtown if there is a local Patton connection, so no additional on and off ramps as DOT insists.

    I’m not an engineer, but some engineers and architects have imagineered this kind of scenario and it appears to work. NCDOT insists on taking any suggestion offered and imposing its 8-lane, 65 mph vision, which blows everything up into the kind of highway other cities are struggling to get rid of.

  12. laelgray

    We absolutely need to fix the Smokey Park Bridge problem, which alternates 2 and 3 do not accomplish. Alternates 4 and 4B manage to separate the interstate traffic on the bridge, but create a whole new set of problems – including a ridiculously huge, double deck highway next to Montford. The City of Asheville needs to ensure that the DOT engineers figure out how to fix the bridge and connect the I-26 without destroying our downtown neighborhoods or prospects for future access to the river (see the Wilma Dykeman Riverway plan).

    Montford is not saying “don’t do it.” We’re saying, “Get it right.”

    Here are the city’s goals for this project that the DOT needs to comply with (from the Community Coordinating Committee report of 2000):

    1. Separation of local and interstate traffic.
    2. Match scale of project to character of the community.
    3. Reunification and connectivity of community.
    4. Minimization of neighborhood and local business impacts.
    5. Use of updated traffic modeling software and data.
    6. Maintenance of compatibility with community’s design vision and plans.
    7. Creation of full interstate movements between I-26 and I-40.
    8. Minimization of air quality and other environmental impacts.
    9. Emphasis on safety during construction and in the design of the final product.

Leave a Reply to BGCauble ×

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.