The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

For two years, the Asheville Design Center opened their doors to the community every Wednesday night to explore better options for the I-26 Connector. Here, a group of ADC volunteers look at a 3-D model of the project.

 

When communities come together, we can move a highway.

 

This fall, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will release the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the I-26 Connector Project – a highway expansion project through Asheville – that will reflect some major victories and improvements for city residents.

When NCDOT first proposed the Connector Project in 1989, it sparked widespread concern among Asheville residents living within its path. Typical to NCDOT projects at the time, the project catered to thru-traffic drivers and not to the needs of the people and neighborhoods of Asheville itself. If left unchallenged, it would have been overbuilt and threatened communities already harmed by previous highway projects.

In 2000, the community started organizing in earnest to oppose to the plan. MountainTrue (then the Western North Carolina Alliance) co-chaired the Community Coordinating Committee (CCC), which issued a report recommending nine key design goals that the final project should achieve. These included separation of local and interstate traffic, matching the scale of project to the character of community, reunification and connectivity of community and minimization of neighborhood and local business impacts. These goals have continued to be the foundation for advocacy by residents and the City of Asheville ever since.

Then in 2006, the Asheville section of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) secured grant funding to form the Asheville Design Center. This allowed the Center to begin holding community meetings, workshops and design charrettes to create a community-authored design for I-26 that met the CCC’s goals. Eventually called Alternative 4B, this design was finished in 2007 and received broad community support, including funding from the City of Asheville and Buncombe County for an engineering study to prove that it was feasible.

The existing Patton Ave. corridor (left) and the community-designed alternative created by Asheville Design Center volunteers (right), which has been selected for the project.

In 2009, NCDOT committed to include a revised version of the community-designed Alternative 4B in the EIS – the first time anywhere in the country that a community-developed design became a viable alternative for a major highway project.

Also in 2009, a coalition of representatives from the Asheville neighborhoods that stood to be most impacted by the new highway – including West Asheville, Burton Street, WECAN, Emma and Montford – formed the I-26 ConnectUs Project. MountainTrue served as the convener and coordinator, using its expertise to amplify neighborhood concerns with NCDOT. The ConnectUs Project also adopted the CCC report’s goals as the basis for its advocacy.

In 2013, the I-26 Working Group came together and was made up of elected City and County officials, a representative of the business community, and MountainTrue as a representative of the ConnectUs Project. The Working Group secured consensus on several important issues, including that NCDOT should analyze the possibility of having fewer lanes through West Asheville and honor the City’s vision for the Jeff Bowen Bridge to become an urban boulevard. This effort also resulted in NCDOT commiting to build a multi-use path from Haywood Road in West Asheville to and across the Bowen Bridge – a significant victory for community connectivity.

When NCDOT issued a revised Draft EIS in 2015, Asheville City Council passed a resolution in support of the community’s vision and formed a working group with NCDOT to hammer out the remaining issues. In 2016, NCDOT selected Alt. 4B as the preferred alternative for the project and, in 2017, NCDOT agreed that the highway in West Asheville would be six rather than eight lanes. These decisions represent other major victories for citizen advocacy, and the working group collaboration has resulted in an improved project design on several other fronts.

Too often NCDOT has made its decisions without significant involvement from or engagement with local communities. In the years since, we’ve seen a growing shift in their approach in other areas of the state.

Good transportation planning considers a community’s unique context and engages residents from the beginning. It should protect our most vulnerable neighborhoods, ecologically sensitive areas, and mountain views, while minimizing the impacts on homes, businesses and special community assets. Good transportation planning can improve quality of life, increase transportation options, make our communities healthier and reduce pollution.  

MountainTrue and our Asheville Design Center are using this model of community advocacy  developed for the I-26 Connector project in other WNC communities, most notably in Sylva to develop community-designed alternatives for NC-107.

Does Your Community Need Assistance With A Design Project?


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

This rendering by the Asheville Design Center shares our vision for the Patton Avenue/Bowen Bridge corridor to be a multi-modal, urban boulevard that serves as a gateway to downtown. 

June 18, 2018

French Broad River MPO

339 New Leicester Highway

Asheville, NC  28804

 

Dear MPO leaders:

 

On behalf of our members and supporters, Asheville on Bikes and MountainTrue write in opposition to cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project from the statewide to the regional tier of projects.  We firmly believe that negotiations between the City of Asheville and NCDOT on outstanding design questions related to the Connector Project should be completed and incorporated into the final Environmental Impact Statement before the project moves forward. We cannot support cascading Section A until this occurs.

We recognize that the City’s negotiations with NCDOT to date have produced several good outcomes including new bike/pedestrian facilities, good greenway connections, a Section A with six lanes instead of  eight, and a much-improved redesign of the Amboy Road interchange (though no one has yet seen revised maps that reflect these design improvements).  However, there has not yet been success in determining the number of lanes going across the river and in the design of the Patton Avenue/Bowen Bridge corridor.  The City of Asheville remains committed to making this corridor a multi-modal, urban boulevard that serves as a gateway to downtown, but NCDOT is not yet committed to these outcomes.

Until negotiations with NCDOT are complete and the drawings are updated so that the City can say with confidence that the project will increase livability for the residents of Asheville, advance active transportation, and meet the City’s vision for the redevelopment of Patton Ave, we stand with the City of Asheville in opposing cascading Section A.  We strongly encourage NCDOT to continue to work with the City of Asheville to reach agreement on these critical design issues.

 

Sincerely,

 

            Mike Sule, Executive Director                                                                Bob Wagner, Co-Director

            Asheville on Bikes                                                                                    MountainTrue


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue and Asheville Design Center to Merge

MountainTrue and Asheville Design Center to Merge

MountainTrue and Asheville Design Center to Merge

MountainTrue is excited to welcome Chris Joyell and the Asheville Design Center to the MountainTrue team. Asheville Design Center (ADC) and MountainTrue have announced their intent to merge in the Fall of 2017.

Chris Joyell, executive director of Asheville Design Center.

There is a long history of collaboration and a strong alignment between MountainTrue’s land use and transportation work & ADC’s community planning work. Merging will strengthen both organizations and help communities across all of Western North Carolina better address their needs through a combination of grassroots organizing, community-driven planning and strategic advocacy.

MountainTrue members will vote on whether to approve the merger at our 2017 Annual Gathering on October 25 at New Belgium Brewing in Asheville. If the merger is approved, Asheville Design Center will retain its name and operate as a program of MountainTrue.

“The merger creates one organization that is better able to pursue a holistic approach to our built and natural environments,” explains Chris Joyell, executive director of the Asheville Design Center.

Asheville Design Center is inviting its members and supporters to celebrate the merger with a toast at MountainTrue’s upcoming Annual Gathering at New Belgium on October 25 from 6-8 pm. The Annual Gathering is open to all members. Contributing supporters of ADC will receive a complimentary one-year membership to MountainTrue. Click here to RSVP.

“This is a merger that benefits both organizations,” explains Carrie Turner, ADC board chair. “ADC will benefit from MountainTrue’s larger infrastructure and will be able to expand and develop more impactful programs. “MountainTrue, for its part, will gain ADC’s know-how when it comes to helping residents plan for the health of their own communities.”

“MountainTrue has the experience and capacity to organize the public in support of the kind of community-driven design planning that ADC is expert at conducting,” explains Bob Wagner, co-director of MountainTrue. “By aligning our work, we’ll be able to better meet the needs of people throughout WNC.”

Collaboration between the Asheville Design Center and MountainTrue goes back to 2009 when the two organizations created Blue Ridge Blueprints — a grassroots planning program to help communities plan for and design their futures while preserving local character and protecting the natural environment. Through Blue Ridge Blueprints, ADC and MountainTrue partnered with residents to develop the Burton Street Community Plan when that neighborhood was threatened by the proposed I-26 Connector.

The Burton Street community had recently overcome issues of crime, poor infrastructure and shifting demographics, and, in 2010, a plan to expand I-26 threatened to impede this progress and displace many long-time residents. At the invitation of the community, ADC and MountainTrue worked with local residents to develop a vision, goals and strategies to achieve those goals. ADC design volunteers conducted numerous surveys and workshops to inform a community plan, while MountainTrue organized the community and helped participants prioritize goals for implementation.

The Burton Street Community Plan helped spur the adoption of the Smith Mill Creek Greenway into the City’s greenway master plan and prompted ADC’s DesignBuild Studio to construct an outdoor classroom for the Burton St. Community Peace Garden.

This work helped us establish our trajectory when MountainTrue and the ADC worked side-by-side on the I-26 Connector Project to push for a design that minimized the highway’s footprint and its impacts on Asheville’s neighborhoods, including Burton Street. ADC worked directly with affected communities through a participatory planning process and then offered detailed improvements to the North Carolina Department of Transportation that were supported by the people. MountainTrue subsequently worked with specifically impacted neighborhoods to generate and maintain support for the principles underpinning ADC’s proposed highway design.

“We had both strong, consistent public support and good design principles. That gave us credibility and power,” says Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue. “In 2016, we made history when NCDOT selected a variation of ADC’s design, Alternative 4B, as the first community-authored highway design ever to be adopted by a state DOT.”

These real-world examples of collaboration light the path forward: one organization better able to support more communities across the region in building a better, healthier and cleaner WNC for all.

Media Coverage:


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Hendersonville, N.C. — On Thursday, July 13, Hendersonville Green Drinks welcomes Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner for the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). He will present on recent bicycle and pedestrian issues in the area, and ways that the public can get involved!

What: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues
Who: Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River MPO
Where: Black Bear Coffee Co. 318 N. Main St. Hendersonville, NC
When: Thursday, July 13, networking at 5:30 p.m., presentation at 6:00 p.m.

Tristan Winkler is a Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and has worked on various transportation projects in Western North Carolina since 2013 as a private consultant and, later, at the MPO. Tristan is a board member of the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals of North Carolina, and director-at-large for the Western North Carolina Chapter of Women in Transportation.

About Hendersonville Green Drinks
Hendersonville Green Drinks is presented by MountainTrue and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Come to Green Drinks to learn more about current environmental issues, have relevant discussions, and meet with like-minded people. This is a monthly event and everyone is welcome. You don’t have to drink at Green Drinks, just come and listen. Black Bear Coffee offers beer, wine, coffee drinks and sodas. A limited food menu will be available.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Join us for the MountainTrue Fall Gathering at New Belgium!

Join us for the MountainTrue Fall Gathering at New Belgium!

Wednesday, October 26, join us at New Belgium Brewery in Asheville for our annual Fall Gathering. Expect great beer, delicious food and some sweet, sweet jams from Asheville’s very own The Midnight Plowboys.

THIS EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO ALL CURRENT MEMBERS.

MountainTrue 2016 Fall Gathering
Wednesday October 26 from 6 PM to 8 PM
New Belgium Brewery’s Brewhouse
21 Craven Street, Asheville

With our proud mountain heritage, beautiful mountain vistas, lush forests and rushing streams, Western North Carolina is an amazing and special place to call home. The support of our members has helped us fight for our communities and protect one of the richest environments in the world.

Support WNC by renewing your membership and making a donation to MountainTrue today. CLICK HERE.

If you would prefer to send us a check, please make your donation payable to MountainTrue and mail it to us at 29 N. Market St., Suite 610, Asheville, NC 28801.

Thanks to our members and supporters, MountainTrue was voted WNC’s #1 Environmental Group by the readers of Mountain Xpress. Our programs represent you, your values and the issues that you care about. Here are some of the things we’ve accomplished together so far in 2016:

Protecting Our Waters

  • We launched the first monthly water-quality monitoring program in the Watauga River basin with 13 sites monitored by MountainTrue volunteers and staff.

  • We continue fighting Duke Energy in court over its coal-ash pollution at the Cliffside plant in Rutherford County and organized over a hundred people to attend hearings and demand the full clean-up of coal ash pollution.

  • We planted 6,000 live stakes that will grow, stabilize banks, and stop erosion along 12 miles of river frontage in the French Broad River basin.

Preserving Our Public Lands  

  • As a leader in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest planning process, we helped develop a groundbreaking agreement between wilderness, conservation and recreation advocates in support of more trails and public access and more backcountry and wild places.

  • We prevented over 100 acres of clear cutting on Nantahala National Forest, helped eradicate invasive species on the Grandfather Ranger District, and raised awareness of the natural wonders of Bluff Mountain with a BioBlitz that documented over 400 plant species.

Building Vibrant Communities

  • We mobilized over 1,000 comments on the I-26 Connector project in Asheville. In response, NCDOT selected the community-developed and supported Alternative 4B for the bridge section of the project. We celebrate this victory while continuing to work to reduce overall size, improve design, and include more bike/pedestrian infrastructure.

Working for Clean Energy

  • We intervened in Duke Energy’s application for approval of a new natural-gas plant in Asheville and a new peaker plant to be built in 2023. We asserted that Duke had not made its case for additional fossil fuel capacity, and the Public Utilities Commission agreed, declining to approve the extra peaker plant. Now, we are hard at work providing leadership for the new City of Asheville-Buncombe County-Duke Energy partnership to develop and implement a plan to increase energy efficiency and grow our renewable energy infrastructure.

Engaging Citizens

  • After three years of advocacy in support of surrounding neighbors, we achieved victory at the CTS site in Buncombe County when EPA required an interim cleanup of a large pool of subsurface contamination. Next, we will make sure that the long-term cleanup plan is as protective as possible.

  • MountainTrue members and staff took lobbying trips during the 2016 legislative session to be your voice in Raleigh. We are also hosting “meet and greets” between our members and candidates vying to replace our retiring WNC legislators.

  • We brought nationally renowned evangelical Christian and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe to  Asheville. She met with 80 faith leaders at a prayer breakfast and addressed more than 300 people in the First Baptist Church sanctuary.

BECOME A MOUNTAINTRUE MEMBER AND BE PART OF THE MOVEMENT FOR A BETTER WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA. CLICK HERE.

Thank you for your generous support of our work!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

On Election Day, Vote Yes for Asheville

On Election Day, Vote Yes for Asheville

On Election Day, Vote Yes for Asheville

This November, City of Asheville residents will all have an opportunity to vote on a $74 million bond package to provide funds for improvements in the City’s affordable housing, multimodal transportation and parks. These projects will  make life even better for all who call Asheville home and pay it forward to our local environment.

MountainTrue has joined the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and many more who support the Asheville Bonds. The Bonds will fund projects that will make it easier to get around town with healthy, environmentally friendly transportation options like walking, biking and public transportation. Affordable housing initiatives will make our community more equitable and protect our mountains and countryside by encouraging smart, affordable housing downtown. The Bonds will improve and expand our parks–perfect places for the next generation of environmental advocates to connect with nature.

 

We can afford this: If all three bonds are approved, there would be a 4.15 cent-maximum increase in Asheville property taxes. At the most that would mean around $9 extra a month per year in taxes on a home valued at $275,000. With interest rates at an all time low and all the value we’ll add with Bond-funded projects, we can’t afford to not approve them!

If approved, the Bonds will fund projects that are already planned and vetted by the community but are not currently funded. We’re especially excited about the new greenway extensions and connectors and almost a dozen new sidewalk projects. There are also plenty of improvements to existing sidewalks and other pedestrian infrastructure to make it safer to get around town on foot and bike!

We think these Bonds are a great investment in Asheville’s future and the environment, and we hope you’ll join us in supporting them this Election Day. Spread the word by Liking and Sharing AVLBondsYes on Facebook.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.