Mountain Xpress has done an excellent job in detailing the history and future of the I-26 Connector project over the years as “Inroads: How Interstate Highways Changed the Face of WNC,” [March 8] once again demonstrates. Those of us who are actively involved in the Don’t Wreck Asheville Coalition [www.DontWreckAsheville.org] were particularly interested in the section dealing with the “malfunction junction” and the city of Asheville’s position in support of the 4B Alternative of I-26, despite its many irremediable problems.
City Council member Julie Mayfield is taking the lead for the city of Asheville in negotiating changes with N.C. Department of Transportation, but DWAC is concerned that the city’s long-held utopian quest to “turn Patton Avenue into a true urban boulevard and gateway to downtown” is leading to an interstate highway “solution” that is far worse than the status quo.
As part of building this “boulevard,” the city wants everything but local traffic off of the Bowen Bridge, and so the N.C. DOT solution is the building of two new curved I-240 highways 10 stories in the air above the French Broad River.
There are negative safety implications from the two proposed I-240 fly-overs. According to a 2004 study by the national Transportation Research Board, approximately 25 percent of fatal crashes each year occur along horizontal curves: “the average accident rate for horizontal curves is about three times the average accident rate for highway tangents.”
In a nutshell, this means that the accident danger associated with the current I-26 routing north off the Bowen Bridge will just be replaced by creating an even more dangerous new configuration for I-240. This problem is made even more acute by the fact that the elevated highways will be used by many tourists who are unfamiliar with the city’s road network and a large population of retirees who relocate to Asheville.
Furthermore, the 4B Alternative means the creation of a spaghetti bowl of three new elevated highways at the western front door of downtown Asheville. At its widest point towering above the Emma Street community to the west of the river, this means up to 20 new highway lanes when you count in shoulders and merge lanes in the area where I-26 and I-240 will diverge.
On the east side of the river, there will be up to 14 lane widths of highway that will be cut into the hillside abutting Riverside Cemetery that will cut residents of Asheville off from the recreational amenities and new greenways that are planned west of Riverside Drive. How does any of that make sense?
Thus far, the city has been blind to the obvious — that there’s nothing that can be done to minimize the impact of this flawed project. That’s why N.C. DOT won’t develop and share with the public any human-scale visuals that enable the public to know what this entire thing will look like once built.
When DOT presented what few visuals they had to a neighborhood group back in September of last year, there were gasps of horror from audience members. When N.C. DOT won’t show us the scale of the three new highways in a way people can visually understand, and when the city is not demanding highway planners do so, any city reassurances about working to improve 4B are nothing more than lip service.
As DeWayne Barton from the Burton Street community rightfully noted in the article, “Neither the city nor the DOT has offered much in terms of concrete action” for the residents of Asheville. We deserve better.
— Suzanne Devane
Founding Member, DWAC