Although Asheville City Council wrapped up its Feb. 12 meeting in less than an hour, its members still managed to cover a lot of ground on transportation. Four items on Council’s consent agenda aimed to improve how Asheville residents move about the city — and, thanks to a resolution supporting a statewide initiative for passenger rail in Western North Carolina, potentially across the country.
Ray Rapp, a former state representative for Madison, Haywood and Yancey counties, spoke in support of the latter effort during public comment on the consent agenda. He said that efforts to restore service, which last was available in 1975, have been ongoing since the late 1990s but are now starting to show real promise. “We have a chance to do this, folks, because Amtrak finally has come to the table after years of telling us they were not interested,” he explained.
As a first step, he said, the N.C. General Assembly could provide $890,000 to fund a bus connection between Asheville and Amtrak’s terminal in Salisbury, roughly 130 miles away. Council member Keith Young called the proposal “really exciting” and recounted his own frequent use of train service during his college years.
Another resolution approved nearly $300,000 for Asheville-based NHM Contractors to begin renovations on the downtown Asheville Redefines Transit bus station. The scope of work, which will cost nearly $130,000 more than originally budgeted, includes only storm drainage, sidewalks and bus travel lanes.
In a press release issued after the meeting, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel wrote that improvements to the station itself will not begin until after the site work is completed. Workers will then fix the station’s digital display — out of order since at least July — add solar panels and renovate bathrooms and seating areas. She noted that construction will begin in March and could last through winter 2020.
Arden-based Patton Construction Group was cleared to receive more than $286,000 to construct two sidewalks on Hill Street and Bingham Road. The first project, funded through the city’s 2016 bond issue, will connect Courtland Avenue with Riverside Drive. The second, funded through the Neighborhood Sidewalk Program, will fill gaps in the sidewalk near Pearson Bridge Road.
“Both projects will enhance connectivity and pedestrian safety,” wrote McDaniel in a press release. “Connectivity is an important consideration taken to help people get to a transit stop, to community destinations like parks, schools, libraries and even grocery stores.”
Finally, Council approved a $14,500 budget amendment expanding its current Bike Share Feasibility Study to include e-scooters. Asheville outlawed the devices in November after California-based Bird deployed approximately 200 scooters throughout downtown without governmental permission. Council members noted at the time that the ban would not necessarily be permanent if they could determine how to fit scooters into the city’s infrastructure.
Council member Julie Mayfield addressed “everybody who loves scooters and has been emailing us asking for scooters” as she explained the need for the funding. Widening the scope of the study would help the city “figure out how to have [scooters] here — whether and how,” she immediately clarified.