Sunday, December 23, 2012

I-26 Update

It now appears that there are some monies available to possibly complete work (still many years away) on a portion of the I-26 project, which has been in discussion for almost 20 years now.  Currently, there is funding to widen I-240 through West Asheville, but no funding to address the problems related to the I-26/I-240 interchange and Jeff Bowen Bridge (formely Smoky Park).  Regardless, the NC Department of Transportation will be having to update the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the entire project.  The I-26 ConnectUs group, which represents neighborhoods most impacted by the project, recently sent the following letter to NCDOT outlining its goals and considerations that it would like to see addressed as this project picks up steam again.


Vince Rhea, P.E.
N.C. Dept. of Transportation
1548 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1548

Re: I-26 Connector, TIP No. I-2513

Dear Mr. Rhea:

            Now that work on the I-26 Connector Project has begun again, the I-26 ConnectUs Group would like to provide the following comments to you and DOT regarding our hoped for goals for the project and the new EIS.  The I-26 ConnectUs Group represents most of the potentially impacted neighborhoods, including West Asheville, Burton Street, East-West Asheville, WECAN, and Montford.  Though we no longer have a specific representative for the Emma community, we continue to consider the interests of that neighborhood.  The group also has participation from the Asheville Housing Authority, Christians for a United Community, the design community and, of course, the Western North Carolina Alliance.

            The I-26 ConnectUs Project has revised its 2009 goal statement to better reflect the current status of the project and the need for all parties involved to step back from earlier, entrenched positions.  Our current goal statement, or vision, for the project appears below, and we would anticipate being able to support a project that met these goals: 

To ensure the long term health and success of the economy, citizens, and environment of Asheville and the surrounding area, the final design and construction of the Asheville I-26 Connector should achieve the following:
·       Safe travel for interstate and local traffic
·       Improved connections for all modes of local traffic
·       Minimal destruction of neighborhoods, homes, and businesses
·       Minimal harm to air and water quality
·       Improvements that match the scale and character of Asheville

In addition, there are several issues that we request the new EIS specifically address.  Many of these are standard considerations for EISs, but we want to be sure DOT understands what we think is most important and provides information that will help Asheville and DOT make the best possible decisions around this project.  Therefore, we request that the new EIS include the following; 

·       Recognition of the importance of the environment and character of Asheville, their role in promoting regional tourism, and an analysis of the impacts the various alternatives will have on these.
·       An assessment of the impacts the alternatives will have on neighborhood and city connectivity via local streets and documentation of specific impacts to neighborhoods.
·       An analysis of how this project helps advance or impede the goals and implementation of various plans adopted by the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, and the region, including the Long Range Transportation Plan; the City’s 2025 plan, Greenway Master Plan, Transit Master Plan, Pedestrian Plan, and Bicycle Plan; and the County’s new Greenway Master Plan. 

·       An analysis of whether improvements to local roads and/or transportation demand management strategies would be effective at reducing local traffic on I-26.
·       A clear explanation of the traffic forecast and the resulting recommendation on the number of lanes, as well as the tradeoffs inherent in the relationship between the number of lanes and the level of service.
·       A new traffic forecast that uses a revised local model to see if state and national trends in reduction of VMT is occurring in Asheville and what impact that might have on the project.
·       An analysis of the application of the NCDOT Complete Streets Policy and the new NCDOT Public Health Policy to this project and how this project advances or impedes the goals of these policies.
·       A more complete analysis of the air and water quality impacts of the various alternatives.

For purposes of the EIS, we also note the addition of New Belgium to our community in the vicinity of this project, and we ask that the DOT consider in its design alternatives providing easier highway access for New Belgium truck traffic that reduces the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.   

            Finally, we encourage DOT to focus the funding available for this project on Section B.  We realize the only currently available funding is for Section A through West Asheville, but Section A is a much lower priority and, if funding continues to be limited, should be built after Section B.  In no case should Section A be built before or apart from Section B, as that would be unnecessarily destructive to neighborhoods, homes, and the environment and would not address any transportation need.

            Thank you for your consideration of these comments.  As members and leaders of this community, we look forward to working with you and others to design and chose the alternative that will best serve Asheville and its citizens and visitors for decades to come.  

Julie V. Mayfield
Executive Director

Cc:              Asheville City Council
            Buncombe County Commission
            Paul Black, French Broad River MPO
            Jay Swain, NCDOT Division 13
            Rick Tipton, NCDOT Division 13

No comments:

Post a Comment