All of us who live in or near Asheville know that there is something unique about this city. We share a common bond that quickly surfaces in daily conversation with both friends and strangers—the touchstone of which is how fortunate we feel about living here. As one travels, one recognizes quickly that very few cities have such a shared feeling of appreciation and love of place. In addition to its tangible attractions of art, music, architecture, it is perhaps this feeling about the city itself that attracts and holds us here and touches the many thousands who visit each year.
Looking back as an elder, I remember my childhood city in the Northeast, with a population of under 100,000, and what happened to it when a new interstate highway was threaded through its heart, permanently altering the quality of life in the community. Something was lost that could never be recovered.
Last year, at an Asheville City Council discussion of proposed changes related to I-26, a Council member expressed a concern about the unforeseen and permanent impact that the placement of I-240 has had on our community. His comment provided the right context as Council weighed its response to the proposed I-26 routes being presented by representatives from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
There are questions on the table right now—regarding the route that the I-26 Connector will take through our city and DOT’s proposed eight lanes through West Asheville—that are as important to the welfare of the city as any we may ever face. And, there is a critical deadline for citizen comments about this project to be sent to DOT: Friday, Oct. 17.
Among the several routes proposed, there is only one that represents the will and the long-term interests of the community. Unlike all other proposed routes, Alternate Route 4B separates I-26 interstate traffic from local traffic, has the smallest footprint, and has clear and well-reasoned community support. Among its many benefits, Patton Avenue becomes a gateway boulevard to Asheville: West Asheville is reunited with Asheville and Smoky Park Bridge is transformed from an interstate connector to a bridge for local traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. [This route] cuts the cost of the project in land purchase, leaves significantly more acres on the tax roles and saves land for use as housing and commercial space. It is the only plan that incorporates key concepts developed by the volunteer, local Asheville Design Center. The Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners supported 4B by allocating $70,000 to study the plan, and the Asheville Citizen-Times editorial of Aug. 24 endorsed its key concepts.
Despite everything going for it, DOT has yet to decide whether Alternate Route 4B will be included in the next critical step, the required Environmental Impact Study. If it is not included, its intelligence, its concepts and the interests of the community will be lost. If we agree that protecting this precious jewel of a city from possible threats to its quality of life are essential duties and perhaps even a sacred trust of its citizens, please e-mail or fax your comments to Mr. Drew Joyner, N.C. Department of Transportation: firstname.lastname@example.org (fax: 919-715-1522). At a minimum, ask that Alternate Route 4B be included in the Environmental Impact Study.
— Jim Mulrooney