A report on the options for I-26 alternatives by former Asheville Planning Director Scott Shuford is “incomplete” and leaves out several key factors, according to a critique by Dr. David Johnson, a longtime professional planner and professor emeritus of planning at the University of Tennessee.
In his critique, Johnson states that Shuford failed to consider several important factors. And by concluding that the Asheville Design Center’s Alternative 4b would have the most impact (and the Alternative 3 the least), Shuford ignored “benefits to the community that would accrue from each of the alternatives,” according to Johnson.
“Shuford uses only costs as a criterion,” Johnson states. “Benefit/cost analysis obviously requires weighing both benefits and costs.”
Specifically, Johnson says that Shuford ignored the desire of the community to separate local and interstate traffic (something 4 and 4b do, but 3 does not), which would resolve traffic difficulties on the east side of the Smoky Park Bridge and limit the impact on the Burton Street neighborhood, where alternative 3 would demolish 24 homes.
Johnson also takes issue with several of Shuford’s own assessments, such as Shuford stating that part of 4b’s impact involves it passing over Patton Avenue.
“There is no requirement that I-26 must pass over Patton,” Johnson notes.
In addition, he disagrees with Shuford’s assertion that 4b will negatively impact the Hillcrest area.
“Alternatives 2 and 3, he suggests, will not impact Hillcrest adversely since little construction is slated under these alternatives for the east side of the river,” Johnson states in his report. “In fact, Hillcrest is today very isolated from the surrounding community by these existing highway ramps. This isolation would be lessened under the 4B and 4 alternatives.”
Johnson notes that Shuford based his assessment of 4b’s impact on Montford from the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s visual animations, which he believes are not entirely accurate.
“All of the alternatives will impact the area in some degree in terms of noise and a new visual presence of highway structures,” Johnson writes. “Only a computer modeling simulation can reveal which of the alternatives will have the most or least noise impact on the cemetery and the Montford neighborhood.”
In fact, he said, with improved engineering and a double-decker structure that contains sound, 4b might have the least impact.
He also blasts Shuford’s estimate of construction costs as “inadequate” and failing to take into account the needs of the community, something Johnson believes 3 does not do.
“The cheapest alternative is in fact to do nothing,” Johnson writes. “But WNC would be foolish to adopt this alternative simpler because it costs nothing. I-26 must be completed and as quickly as possible. But it should also be done with care and with attention to both benefits as well as costs to the State and the community. This isn’t rocket science, but simple common sense.”
He goes on to assert that 4b offers significant benefits in terms of lessening impact, returning land to the tax rolls and improving the river front.
“Alternative 4B looks ahead to what imaginative American cities will look like in the future,” he concludes.
Johnson, while an adviser to the ADC, 4b’s developers, noted in his report that his opinions are personal. He has also been a planner for Boston Redevelopment Authority, the National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, DC, and the Regional Plan Association in New York.
— David Forbes, staff writer