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.
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.”
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.”