Planning prof: Shuford report on I-26 alternatives “incomplete”

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


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6 thoughts on “Planning prof: Shuford report on I-26 alternatives “incomplete”

  1. Harry Hamil

    For me, this is a perfect example of why “experts” are like sal: use with care.

    As I stated in my letter to all of the commissioners, “Scott Shuford’s comparison of the I-26 Alternatives is exemplary of the crap that passes for analysis in the professional planning community–long on generalizations, conclusions and visualizations and short on facts, explanations of methodology, listing of sources for “facts” and rationales. He supposedly compares the impacts of the I-26 alternative but fails to include any consideration of impact on the area to the west and north of Westgate Shopping Center, traffic safety, separation of local and through traffic, long term maintenance costs nor footprint.”

    Most importantly, almost every citizen who takes the time to become even minimally informed about issues like this can see the gaping holes in work like his. Unfortunately, the general public and our elected officials too often defer to the “experts” rather than analyzing the information for themselves. The key is people have to slow down and consider what they are seeing and hearing.

    Now, to add a point I haven’t seen before. Scott Shuford’s “analysis” was propped up by computer visualizations which appeared to me to be quite visually distorted. Vertical distance appeared exaggerated compared to horizontal distance. Thus, certain visual impacts appeared to be greater than they would be in real life.

    It appears to me that this is partially due to the compression of the 3 dimensions into 2. Unfortunately, this “tool” is used increasingly without in discussion of the distortions that it perpetuates.

    The Xpress could do a great service by comparing computer visualizations of some existing bridges etc. against photos of them and by reviewing visualizations like these against the specifications in the designs.

  2. Cecil Bothwell

    Surprise, surprise, surprise!

    Scott Shuford FAILING to take factors into account when gazing at development plans. Well peel me from the pavement.

    Today I was thinking about Shuford when I happened to drive by the Walgreens on Merrimon where he permitted the developer to label the tiny, tiny building on the street side of the parking lot (a bank drive thru? a one-hour photo booth?) as Walgreen’s PRINCIPAL building. This in order to make the plan they wanted conform with the UDO rule that all new developments are to be pedestrian friendly, with their PRINCIPAL BUILDING located toward the street, and with parking behind.

    Maybe Scott needs to have his prescription checked, though whether is is optometric or pharmaceutical isn’t clear.

    Shuford never did explain what the principal building was actually going to be used for. It appears to be an office space just now.

  3. People Power Granny

    I’m also concerned about the report Shuford gave on number of miles more that would be driven on plan 4B vs. 3. I don’t think he looked at the fact that more of those miles would be walkable and bike-able under plan 4B, whereas with plan 3, they almost have to be driven. A good example of not giving all the facts. This is why folks want Patton separated from the Interstate.

  4. firelady

    David Johnson is a highly-esteemed scholar and planner. Our region is incredibly fortunate to have him providing expertise on such a contentious project. I trust him implicitly.

    Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Shuford, Rick Lutovsky or the Commissioner who voted against 4b.

    This is a project, which if done well, could benefit our community. Thank you, David. You are to be applauded for advocating for the people within the community to be affected. I don’t feel the “3” people are voting for the best interest of the community. But whose best interest are they voting for?

  5. william mesmer

    It begs the question < what and who gain from each of the plans. What is the short and long term impact, both enviromental and economic to Asheville/Buncombe county and why does Shuford still work for us?

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