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Asheville I-26 Connector Meeting Scheduled for June 15th.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has scheduled a meeting at the Lipinsky Auditorium at UNC-A on June 15th at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to gain public input on the proposed routes for the Asheville I-26 Connector. The meeting has been scheduled to last up to three hours. The meeting is a result of a cooperative effort by the City of Asheville, the NCDOT and local citizen groups to work together to develop an acceptable route for the Asheville I-26 Corridor.

The DOT prefers the route that passes through the Westgate Shopping Center. The alternate route goes through the Holiday Inn SunSpree golf course. There has also been discussion regarding an outer loop route that goes through northwest Buncombe County and connects with I-40 west of the Asheville School campus. However, the DOT thinks this outer loop route will result in the displacement of more families and cost nearly 60% more. The outer loop route would require several miles of new interstate highway from the Woodfin area to I-40 west of the Asheville School campus. The environmental impact, resulting from the miles of new road construction, is also a reason the DOT does not favor this route.

The reservations that the DOT has regarding the route that travels through the Holiday Inn SunSpree golf course are based on the cost of construction and difficulty of the slope of the terrain from the point the connector would cross the French Broad River to where it connects with I-240 West near the Westgate Shopping center. A bridge would have to be built from the north side of the French Broad River, across the railroad tracks, and span the steep ravine leading up to I-240 West. This results in the proposed route through the Holiday Inn SunSpree property being, almost entirely, a bridge.

The proposed route through the Westgate Shopping Center would only require a bridge over the French Broad River and the railroad tracks. However, this proposed route would result in the loss of the Westgate Shopping Center and nearly 60 businesses. This is a very important issue to many Ashevillians and is the focal point of their concern.

The plans for the proposed connector also include widening I-240 West from the West Gate Shopping Center area to either six or eight lanes to the point that it junctions with I-26/I-40. Originally, the DOT's plans were to widen this section of I-240 West to eight lanes. The DOT now is willing to consider only adding two additional lanes to this section of the connector. They are also considering adding connections for pedestrian walkways, bike paths and greenways along this section in lieu of the two additional lanes. Regardless of which route is chosen from Woodfin to the Westgate Shopping Center area, the DOT feels some degree of widening of this section of I-240 West is necessary to accommodate the additional traffic from the newly opened I-26 West.

Public input in the meeting scheduled for June 15th is very important to the NCDOT and the Asheville City Council. Asheville City Vice Mayor, Chuck Cloninger, says, "I am very happy about the public's interest and involvement in this project. I think we should be able to arrive at a connector plan that will be satisfactory to all parties. I am also happy that the NCDOT has agreed to allow all of the interested parties to participate in this decision."

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