I-26 ConnectUs Project Statement on I-26 Prioritization
The I-26 ConnectUs Project is made up of representatives from the Asheville neighborhoods that stand to be most impacted by the I-26 Connector Project, including West Asheville, Burton Street, and Montford. The group is convened by the Western North Carolina Alliance. We have been working together since 2009. All participants agree that the unfinished portion of I-26 as it passes through Buncombe County should be completed in a timely way.
The I-26 ConnectUs Project members are unable to support the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (DOT) request for the City of Asheville and Buncombe County to endorse an alternative for Section B of the I-26 Connector Project at this time. We recognize that the new, state level funding prioritization process is underway and that the project may rank higher in that process if the least expensive alternative is analyzed. However, we believe it is premature to ask the City and County to endorse an alternative prior to the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a full understanding of the relative impacts and benefits of each alternative. Endorsing the least expensive alternative at this point, even for the limited purpose of prioritization, creates a very real risk that our community will be locked into that alternative in the future even if the EIS reveals another alternative is more beneficial.
If, however, adoption of a resolution in support of the least expensive alternative, Alternative 3C, is the best way to ensure that the project remains viable, we ask that the City and County be mindful of the following issues:
That Alternative 3C, as currently designed, does not meet the City’s long range plans;
That the resolution is for the limited purposes of prioritization and does not reflect an endorsement of a final alternative, which will be made only after completion of the EIS and public hearings;
That the EIS should include infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians in all alternatives, consistent with the City of Asheville’s master plans;
That the City and County work with DOT to create benefits for those communities that stand to be impacted the most by this project;
That if a final, preferred alternative is selected that does not remove highway traffic from the Jeff Bowen Bridges, that the City and County advocate for a new project that would allow Patton Avenue and the bridges to become a continuous boulevard from West Asheville into downtown; and
That the City and County continue seeking to work with DOT and the Federal Highway Administration to identify options to reduce the footprint of the project, including utilizing design exceptions and context sensitive design, and conducting a new traffic study.