News | May 27, 2016

Right-sizing Asheville highway upgrades

Plans for a major highway project through downtown Asheville took a good turn recently when officials overseeing the project recommended moving forward with a design conceived and advocated by locals.

For years, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and other agencies have been debating how to resolve congestion from the confluence of Interstates 26 and 240 as they move through downtown Asheville.

Initial plans entailed more than doubling the highway’s footprint—creating a behemoth many see as too large for Asheville—while doing very little to remedy the major flaws in this corridor.

“Asheville is a destination for many but the DOT was trying to build a highway through Asheville, rather than to Asheville,” said DJ Gerken, Managing Attorney in our Asheville office.

Since the first plans, other options emerged thanks in large part to our partner MountainTrue, the I-26 ConnectUs group they formed, and the Asheville Design Center, which is a local group of urban planners, architects, and designers. Now, the design alternative moving forward (often referred to by its DOT designation, Alternative 4B) would separate the highway traffic from local Patton Avenue traffic. Right now, I-240, I-26, and Patton Ave all combine to cross the French Broad River at the Jeff Bowen Bridge, creating major congestion and tricky traffic patterns.

Under the new plan, Patton Ave would become an urban boulevard for local traffic, emphasizing its role as the primary connection between Asheville’s downtown and the booming neighborhoods of West Asheville. The highway traffic from 26 and 240 would be routed slightly north, crossing the French Broad on bridges to be built as part of the project.

While the design specifics for the project are still evolving, SELC and our partner MountainTrue are advocating for minimal lane footprints and more  accommodations for pedestrians, bikes and public transit.

“This alternative opens the door for a new signature gateway to Asheville’s downtown, for cyclists and pedestrians to get from West Asheville to downtown across the Jeff Bowen Bridge, and for new infill development that will create a vibrant urban boulevard and an expanded tax base for the city,” said Julie Mayfield, a city councilor and co-director of MountainTrue. “We continue to believe that the project overall remains too large for Asheville, and we look forward to continued discussions with NCDOT about options for reducing the size.”

Watch the WLOS story on the route decision: MountainTrue: DOT makes selection for Bowen Bridge section of I-26 Connector

Read the Asheville Citizen-Times coverage of the project: Connector route taking traffic off Bowen Bridge picked