Ashvegas Political Hit List: Fake frackers, Aloft apartments, highway boondoggle, more

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Ashvegas: The City You Love. The News You Want.Shew, what a week. Where to begin? Plenty to go around in the latest Hit List.

RAD ramp up

Last week’s visit by U.S. Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx was provided the exclamation point for a big week in the River Arts District, with a combined $30 million committed toward improvement projects in the six-mile corridor along the French Broad River. More may be on the way. According to the Citizen-Times, Asheville could win as much as $8.5 million in additional funds for RAD projects, with decisions on some of the grants coming as soon as next week. As for funds already committed by the city, local leaders are hoping up to $3 million of the amount could come from from a $4.8 million pool of hotel tax money the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority plans to dole out next month.

Aloft apartments

News broke Friday afternoon of plans by Public Interest Projects to build a block of 32 new apartments behind the Aloft Hotel, along with commercial space. Mountain Xpress reporter Jake Frankel has details on the plan, which is set to go before City Council next week.

Fake frackers

Despite a turnout of more than 600 to last week’s public hearing on fracking, the biggest story to come out of the Cullowhee event happened outside the room. Not long after the event (where the Citizen-Times reported sentiment was “overly against” fracking), the Sylva Herald reported a group of fracking “supporters” had been hired and bused in from a homeless shelter in Winston-Salem. After video of the group, whose members wore shirts provided by the N.C. Energy Coalition, emerged online, a spokesman for the organization acknowledged that a “homeless person” had been asked to leave the event after being identified. The spokesman didn’t answer any follow-up questions, according to this Citizen-Times report.

Special session nixed

If you were holding out hope for a special reconvening of the General Assembly this year, too bad. Gov. Pat McCrory announced late last week he would not call on lawmakers to return to Raleigh, an idea which had been floated near the end of last summer’s never-ending short session. “Frankly, I need a break from them,” the governor said, referring to his pals in the legislature. The governor’s decision leaves an economic incentives package on the table, and also means the state’s film incentives program is set to expire at the end of the year.

High hopes for highways

Rail, road and water transportation lines across the state are in need of improvement, and Gov. Pat McCrory has a billion-dollar plan to make it happen. Does he have the money? More on that in a second. On Thursday, the governor criss-crossed the state to announce his “25-Year Vision for North Carolina,” a plan to fund infrastructure projects from Murphy to Manteo. At a stop in Asheville, the governor focused on a component of the plan which would upgrade Highway 74 to interstate standards. In all, the price tag for the projects tallies well over $100 billion, but McCrory said he intends to ask lawmakers next year to fund the initial $1.5 billion by issuing revenue bonds. Expect to hear more about this in coming months.

Big boondoggle

Speaking of transportation, a new report  labeled the proposed I-26 connector project as one of the biggest “highway boondoggles” in the country this week. According to the study, widening the 240 interchange near West Asheville would save drivers an average of 9.6 seconds in travel time. More on the findings in this post at Mountain Xpress.

Poet prerequisites

Wanna be North Carolina’s next poet laureate? There’s a new criteria. After last summer’s scuffle over the governor’s appointment and quick-resignation of a little-known, self-published worker for the state Department of Health and Human Services, the state has created a new set of guidelines for the post. Along with being a state resident, a poet-laureate should at least have a “statewide, national or international reputation.” For the full criteria, click here.

Richard’s running

In case you were wondering if U.S. Sen. Richard Burr would seek re-election in 2016, the answer is yes. Hill-watchers in Washington D.C. pressed the senator on the question this week, after hearing “rampant” rumors about his plans to retire. Not happening, he said.

Senate happenings

Remember when Thom Tillis said U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s math was bad? Now his numbers don’t add up! At least that’s the message from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which released a new spot this week in response to the candidate’s previous ad. Keep an eye out for an ad responding to the response (or don’t).  Meanwhile, Tillis got a little help from likely GOP presidential candidate this week, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumping for Tillis at events in Wilmington on Tuesday. With 45 days to go before election day, a new poll show’s Hagan’s lead over Tillis is widening, we’ll see if it holds.

Get it straight

Still trying to sort out who the candidates are? The Citizen-Times has an interactive voter guide profiling each of November’s races in WNC. Click over here to check it out.

That’s all for this week! See ya on the next round.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. RedHotPoker September 24, 2014

    Not that the msm would report it BUT…

    Did Kay Hagan skip an important ISIS meeting back on February 27, 2014 and instead flew to NYC for a fundraiser?

    WHEN will Kay come clean on this? THEN there’s news that her hubby, ‘Mr. Kay’s’ law firm has corrupt ties to a big Triad water deal…hmm…

  2. Big Al September 24, 2014

    I thought the guidelines on who could be Poet Laureate, drafted by the Oh! so tolerant and open-minded Democrats, started with Item 1: NO REPUBLICANS.

  3. theOtherBarry September 22, 2014

    Who coulda guessed that this would be the next shoe to drop…

    Tillis Donors Could Make Millions From Toll Lanes

    Those “millions” in taxpayer handouts to Tillis cronies would come from a bill co-sponsored by our own Nathan Ramsey.

  4. jtroop September 21, 2014

    the Aloft Apartment project looks really neat! That would be the first real apartment project on that side of town….

  5. theOtherBarry September 20, 2014

    McCrory’s transportation funding plan hinges on more “public-private partnerships” and “innovative managed lanes”. ‘Managed lanes’ means toll lanes, and P3’s mean they will be privatized. That’s what is happening to I-77, with the initial contracts already going to a company from Spain, who will have the monopoly concession on I-77 HOT lanes for 50 years. Unless they don’t make enough money, in which case they’ll pull out and leave the taxpayers holding the bag, as they just did in Indiana, declaring bankruptcy yesterday on the I-80 toll road. But that couldn’t happen here, right?

    I asked McCrory about the possibility of tolls coming to the I-26 project, and all he would say is that it’s not in the plans “at this point in time”, but in the same breath goes right into saying they were “experimenting” with toll lanes, and talking about how great the toll roads around Raleigh are. (drop & drop)

    Yep, they’re coming. Thanks, GOP.

    1. weavervilleman September 21, 2014

      actually, According to NCDOT, I-26 toll lanes are not coming. Usually toll lanes are implemented IF a AVERAGE daily traffic count exceeds between 150,000 to 325,000 VPD. Smokey park bridge part is less than 115,000 VPD.

      1. theOtherBarry September 21, 2014

        I was referring to the possibility of toll lanes coming to the I-26 widening project, not the I-240 connector. That’s how they are doing it on I-77 – they’re widening it with toll lanes. The legislation making it possible was co-sponsored by our own Nathan Ramsey, BTW.

        And besides, if you want to talk VPD, the NCDOT is projecting that traffic on I-240 will more than double over the next twenty years – something the data doesn’t support. That’s the crux of that ‘Boondoggle’ article. Check out this graph from Joe Minicozzi at Urban3: (drag & drop)

        You can bet that the traffic projections on I-26 south of I-240 are similarly inflated, which will raise the cost of widening it (8 lanes versus 6), which will then raise the probability that they’ll claim we can’t possibly afford to do it at all without a private “partner”, which means tolls.

        North Carolina is state in the grip of ALEC ideology. Governor, Speaker Tillis, “Speaker-in-waiting” Moffitt, and most of the leadership with their hands on transportation issues are ALEC, and one of ALEC’s cornerstone issues is that highway construction should be funded by P3s, particularly privatized toll lanes.

        Never mind that ALEC private-sector heavyweights Cintra and Macquarie are declaring bankruptcy on the I-80 Indiana Toll Road they privatized in 2006. Traffic projections didn’t pan out (surprise surprise), and so they weren’t making enough money. They just announced they are dumping it back onto the State of Indiana.

        And who is North Carolina getting in bed with on the I-77 project? Why, Cintra of course. The private sector is never wrong, and can always do it better than government.

        My point is that you shouldn’t base your prediction on whether it makes sense – it clearly doesn’t. But they’re going to do it to us anyway.

        Thanks, Nathan!!

        1. weavervilleman September 22, 2014

          actually if you have ever been in a metropolitan area, like Dallas, Pheonix, or Houston. Any interstate system segment has both toll lanes that you can pay (I.e. HOT Lanes) or free lanes where all of the congestion is located (IF you dont want to pay toll). I actually think that HOT lanes would be a good idea, BECA– — USE, their rules are: 3+ passengers, motorcyclists, buses, and Emergency Vehicles are exempt from paying a toll which instead of having toll booths that stop traffic while each person stops to pay, traffic continues to move at a high speed while a Camera snaps a picture of your tag and Bills you via mail, or if you have a Small RFID tag you dont have to pay (except once a month or something similar to that). That money will be UNLIKE the lottery (where only a SMALL percentage goes to education, for the lottery) but a rather large percentage will go into funding the transportation budget.

          1. theOtherBarry September 22, 2014

            So you’re in favor of new taxes, which let’s face it, that’s what toll lanes are. Only, instead of going back into funding new infrastructure needs, a large portion of that money coming out of the local economy will be flowing out of the US altogether, into the purses of our new Road Baron masters in Madrid. And if we don’t drive enough or voluntarily pay their tolls enough, they’re free to pull up stakes and move on to the next state full of suckers, and we’ll get handed back a highway we could have built without them.

            If our “leaders” simply set the tax rates to adequately meet the requirements of maintaining public infrastructure (I know, what am I – a Communist?!?), we wouldn’t need to meekly shuffle over to the private monied interests and place our short hairs in their hands.

            But hey, if that’s your idea of “freedom”, go for it.

          2. ashevillain September 23, 2014

            Question (since you bring up metropolitan areas like Dallas, Phoenix and Houston): Does I-26 pass through any such metropolitan areas in NC?

            Answer: No.


        2. native September 22, 2014

          People (liberals, like you) like to moan and complain over everything, dont you?

    2. Foothills Dweller September 22, 2014

      The toll lanes on I-77 will be a failure. No one’s going to pay $20 to drive from Mooresville to Charlotte and back. They tried this a few years ago in DC, on parts of I-495. My husband’s daughter lives there; she says no one uses them. Hopefully they’ll leave I-26 alone.


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