The interstate that runs alongside the French Broad River is itself about to get considerably broader. Beginning next week, contractors will begin installing roadside signs and safety barriers on an approximately 18-mile stretch of Interstate 26, the first step in a $534 million project that will add multiple lanes to the heavily trafficked road.
From Brevard Road in Asheville to the U.S. 25 exit in Henderson County, I-26 is slated to double from four to eight lanes. Widening from four to six lanes will then continue eastbound to U.S. 64 at the Four Seasons Boulevard exit in Hendersonville. The N.C. Department of Transportation anticipates that construction will wrap up by the summer of 2024.
Brian Burch, division engineer for NCDOT Division 14 — responsible for the Henderson County portion of the project — referenced the road noise that echoed over his remarks while speaking at a Sept. 25 press event held in a Biltmore Park parking garage. After nearly two decades of discussions and planning, he said, much-needed relief was coming for the region’s motorists.
“It’s no secret, as you can hear in the background, that we have problems with congestion on I-26,” Burch said. “For the past 17 years, our department has been working on trying to deliver this very important project, not only for our region, but really for the Southeast and the Ohio Valley.”
While excited about the project’s potential benefits, Burch also urged drivers to be more cautious than usual when navigating the construction zone. “For the next four years, we would ask the citizens that use this every day… pay attention and put away their cellular devices or other distractions in their vehicles,” he said. “Each day things may change, and they need to be mindful of that as they travel through here.”
According to Nathan Moneyham, assistant construction engineer for NCDOT Division 13, which includes Buncombe County, the project’s most immediate impact will be the narrowing of I-26’s eastbound lanes to 11 feet through the U.S. 25 exit. That restriction, he said, will allow for placement of a safety barrier on the outside shoulder. Both existing eastbound lanes should remain open during daytime hours, with occasional nighttime closures, but the speed limit will be set at 55 mph at all times.
To keep traffic moving smoothly during construction, the NCDOT’s Mountain Traffic Management Center will monitor much of I-26 on weekdays using closed-circuit TV. Chad Franklin, an NCDOT regional intelligent transportation systems engineer, said those eyes on the road will direct first responders and towing companies to efficiently clear any wrecks that occur.
The NCDOT can also use its observations to trigger prearranged signal changes that will increase traffic flow on detour routes such as U.S. 25, 64 and 176. Information on current traffic conditions, Franklin said, will be displayed on electronic message boards throughout the project area.
More information about the project and detailed maps are available on the NCDOT’s website at avl.mx/6k5.