A citizen proposal challenging Haywood Road as New Belgium’s primary delivery route offers the idea of using Riverside Drive and routing delivery traffic around the “Festus Bridge,” shown here.

At last week’s community gathering to discuss New Belgium’s impact on West Asheville traffic, an unexpected idea emerged. A resident stood up, and with a planned and researched presentation, questioned the whole idea that Haywood Road is the best primary delivery route for New Belgium Asheville.

Thirteen-year West Asheville resident Jonathan Wainscott, 41, stepped up to the podium with a challenge: New Belgium’s primary route sending dozens of semis daily past residences and small businesses in West Asheville isn’t what’s best for the community, and he might have a better idea.

He proposed a different primary delivery route, one taking the 60 large delivery trucks per day looming in Haywood Road’s future and shifting them to the far more industrialized Riverside Drive.

“I’ve never designed a road, but the basic premise of my idea is to convert a defunct railroad path into an active truck lane,” he said.

A furniture designer with an interior design background, Wainscott said his craftsman’s ability for understanding how things connect qualifies him to at least explore a common-sense solution.

Wainscott said he was excited to hear of New Belgium’s arrival, and thrilled at the idea that it meant a new outdoor event space near his family’s home. But he was disheartened to learn that as part of the deal, his neighborhood would become part of a delivery route for 60 large trucks per day, once New Belgium gets up to full production speed for its new East Coast brewery in West Asheville.

New Belgium itself is impacted by its own delivery traffic, Wainscott noted. “Trucks will have to pass through the improved green space on Craven Street, which includes New Belgium’s own event lawn,” he said.

At a projected 100,000 visitors per year to the new brewery, delivery trucks might share Haywood Road with hundreds of brewery visitors daily, plus employees commuting to work at New Belgium. As East West Asheville Neighborhood Association leader Joshua Martin pointed out at the meeting, the whole city of Asheville benefits from the presence of a prestigious and attractive major brewery, but it’s West Asheville that bears the burden of delivery traffic, visitor traffic, construction and other externalities.

Wainscott began to wonder if there were alternatives to increasing traffic on Haywood Road, a thriving business and residential area already prone to congestion–and rapidly growing.

Haywood Road is not the only route to the brewery site, just the one selected as the primary route. Truck entry to the brewery and manufacturing plant also exists via Five Points in the River District (New Belgium’s current official secondary route, less than ideal for large trucks to traverse). A Hazel Mill entry–over the ramplike steep incline near I-240 and Earth Fare–would never support tractor-trailer traffic.

Riverside Drive, however, seems perfect. But there’s a big problem. The yellow train trestle over the road has a clearance of only 13 feet, and modern trucks are six inches taller than the bridge clearance. Lowering the floor of the area under the bridge isn’t feasible in a floodplain.

But Wainscott thinks he’s found a work-around worth investigating.

Festus Bridge–the yellow railroad bridge named after a man killed in a car accident there–is too low for trucks. But a bypass there could allow truck traffic to use Riverside Drive rather than Haywood. (The more industrial Riverside Drive was the truck route used back when New Belgium’s site was a stockyard where animals were transported for auction.)

And that’s Wainscott’s idea: Let trucks drive around the bridge via a bypass, something he said could be done if the DOT paved a route around it. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but according to Wainscott, a “Festus Bypass” solution could be as simple as building a one-lane route allowing trucks to drive around the bridge, parallel to a little-used railroad track.

Image of the “Festus Bridge” by Jonathan Wainscott.

According to his research, delivery trucks going down Haywood Road (and Hanover Street, part of the primary route) will pass by 30 homes, 50 businesses, two churches, a preschool, a daycare center and two gas stations. The Riverside Drive route, according to Wainscott, passes two or three businesses only, and no residences at all.

Based on his observations, the “little stretch of land” by the bridge is actively used as a railroad freight corridor for only thirty minutes a week. “Ninety-nine-point-seven percent of the time it sits unused, while Haywood Road is used by common traffic one hundred percent of the time by over ten thousand vehicles a week,” he wrote in a post to the East West Asheville Neighborhood Association Facebook group.

He acknowledges there are technical challenges to a bypass solution, and lists procurement by purchase or lease of privately owned property on West Haywood Street (in order to provide the necessary radius for a tractor trailer to merge onto the bypass), traffic control to coordinate trucks and trains, and the understanding that this is a one-lane alley/driveway/service access restricted to trucks.

But these are “small, solvable problems,” in his opinion. The hard part? “Cooperation between the N.C. DOT, Norfolk Southern, and the City of Asheville.”

A “Festus Bypass” would route traffic around the 13′ bridge on Riverside Drive and along a proposed paved route running parallel to the train tracks.

After Wainscott’s presentation at last week’s meeting, which was greeted with spontaneous applause from the gathered residents, officials in attendance said his idea would get a a fair shake with New Belgium.

City councilman Gordon Smith, who briefly addressed the crowd, praised New Belgium’s exceptional willingness to listen. “I’ve never come across a corporate partner as willing to find solutions,” Smith said.

But even well-meaning companies can need to be told how to be the best neighbor possible. Allowing unilateral decision-making without community input is a recipe for problems with even the most community-minded neighbor business.

Wainscott’s alternative might not work, despite cooperation from New Belgium. But his idea deserves to be explored, as does any other that better addresses West Asheville traffic during the growth of this part of our city.

“We can investigate” Wainscott’s idea, Smith said at the close of the community meeting, adding that solutions are needed for the whole River District and neighboring areas, which all now likely face exponential growth with the arrival of new neighbor New Belgium.

“You coming in now,” said Smith, referring to the gathered community, “is the best way to handle this.”

Further meetings involving the neighborhood group and the city are planned. “This is not the end of this conversation,”  Martin said. “This is just the beginning.”

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14 Comments

  1. Pingback: New Belgium in Asheville: Game-changing coalition forming between the City of Asheville, New Belgium, neighborhood leaders?

  2. Wow! Jonathan, that’s impressive. Proud of you.

  3. Pingback: New Belgium in Asheville: Brewery says 'Festus Bypass' alternative delivery route 'not feasible'

  4. Pingback: City finds 'Festus Bypass' proposal problematic

  5. If this alternative becomes a real possibility, I think it’s important to make a plan that takes into consideration the impact on cyclists. Riverside gets a huge amount of bicycle traffic, and the area in question is already a bit hazardous for cyclists, what with the train tracks to cross just north of the Festus bridge & the giant puddle that lingers for days after it rains.

  6. hey man .. the blue warehouse across from white duck has been rented and is being occupied. there is no place for trucks to sit idly on west haywood street.

  7. Good point – the road and the rails sharing a right-of-way seems like it would work from a technical standpoint.

    Has there been any discussion with Norfolk Southern regarding this issue? Even if technical issues can be resolved satisfactorily, railroads are not widely known for being cooperative with issues like this. They are private corporations and are EXTREMELY protective of their physical plant.

    Though your solution seems like a reasonable interim solution (if it can be negotiated with Norfolk Southern), the obvious, longer term solution would be to rebuild the railroad bridge over Riverside Drive and the French Broad River with higher clearance. This would be expensive, but will be necessary eventually anyway – probably within the next couple decades. That bridge is probably over 100 years old, and it’s showing its age. Plus when the French Broad floods, the narrow spans of this bridge tend to clog up with debris, damming the river making the flooding even worse.

  8. Jonathan Wainscott says:

    Orulz, great questions. First, you are correct that the trucks would have to cross the railroad tracks. Inbound trucks (coming off Riverside Drive via the bypass) would be able to wait in the turn lot which would be created by using the space currently occupied by the blue metal warehouse across West Haywood Street form White Duck Taco. Once the tracks are clear then the trucks could proceed into common traffic, crossing the Craven Street Bridge and arriving at New Belgium’s shipping and receiving area (where the stockyards are currently located). Likewise with the reverse trip from New Belgium, trucks could wait in their lot until the train has passed and the tracks are clear.

    As for the quality of the bridge, it is already part of the secondary route officially offered by the City using Amboy Road and Lyman. If the existing infrastructure is not suited to support industrial activity in the area then that activity should not be permitted. If light manufacturing is going to a part of the economic growth in the area, then the requisite infrastructure needed to support it needs to be in place and up to date.

    Ideally the bypass would not share space with the active train track. The unused tracks do not need to be removed, they need to be imbedded in pavement. This is done by simply adding a rubber buffer next to the rail and paving to that rubber. Take notice next time you walk across tracks that cross the road.

    While the notion of mixing train traffic and truck traffic seems precarious, remember this: The spurline which services Silverline plastics crosses Riverside Drive with no signal. It then ambles up Riverside Drive crossing 27 driveways of industrial businesses, many of which require trucks to cross the train tracks, and not one of these driveways has a traffic/train signal. Further more, the time that the spur line is used within the parameters of the Festus Bypass is on average 30 minutes a week. That literally means that that track sits unused 99.7% of the time. If the City engineers, NCDOT engineers, and Norfolk Southern can’t figure out how to use and existing freight corridor which is unused 99.7% of the time, to handle 2 trucks an hour, well, we’re all in danger.

  9. Great to have suggestions like these.

    It reads to me like an extension of Roberts Street to Riverside Drive. Sounds like a good idea.

    Couple of questions.

    (1) This will force trucks to go over the railroad crossing on W. Haywood. Don’t trains sometimes just stop, blocking this crossing for several minutes? Also, as I recall there’s a bit of a bump going over that crossing – gotta make sure semis won’t bottom out and get stuck.

    (2) Is the West Haywood street bridge strong enough to handle all this truck traffic? It looks like a fairly puny bridge to me.

    (3) My support of this idea assumes that it doesn’t involve abandoning the Norfolk Southern rail line along Riverside Drive. Fit this road alongside the tracks and we’re in business.

    Abandonment is not likely to happen – Certainly not as long as Silverline Plastics is still in operation, but probably not ever. Though not a mainline, this rail line is still even being actively maintained, including brand new crossing gates installed at Pearson Bridge a couple years back, not to mention the restoration work on the line north of Silverline by the folks at http://craggymountainline.com/ .

    Even if Norfolk Southern could be convinced to abandon the part of the line that they own in spite of the existing and potential future industry it serves, that would leave the “Craggy Mountain Line” folks completely landlocked. I’m pretty sure there are laws against that. They couldn’t get new equipment, like this historical Alco diesel locomotive they acquired just last week http://craggymountainline.com/news/2012/new-engine-arrives/ .

    If Norfolk Southern decides to abandon this multi million dollar asset of railroad, I would rather it not be just for a plan to save West Asheville from a couple trucks per hour – I’d rather see Craggy Mountain Line acquire it – and turn it into a full fledged historical operation and tourist attraction. Run trips out of the River District even.

    • Richard Cary says:

      No abandonment needed. How many times have you seen those photos of trolley tracks/railroad tracks sharing a roadway? This shared use for heavy commercial traffic (truck & train) is a NO BRAINER!!!!!!

  10. Aware Citizen says:

    I think this is a great idea on all levels. Riverside drive is much better suited for this type of traffic and I would think the interstate access is much easier for rigs of that size. I applaud Jonathan Wainscott for his attention to detail and respectful presentation.

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