The I-26 Connector project is a 7-mile federal interstate freeway of 6 to 8 highway lanes that would connect I-26 in southwest Asheville to U.S. 19/23/70 in northwest Asheville. Planning for the project began over a quarter of a century ago in 1988. Proponents wanted the highway when much of Asheville was blighted and in need of an economic shot in the arm that increased highway traffic was meant to bring. Planning has occurred in fits and starts since that time, but the project now appears set for construction beginning in 2021.
The current proposal has three sections with all three sections being built in succession with funding for the third section not yet identified or obtained. NCDOT shows construction for Section C beginning in 2021, construction for Section B beginning in 2024, and construction for Section A in unfunded future years. In the meantime, the “improved sections” of I-26 would have no improved/widened highway connecting them unless and until another $139 million is found to fund Section A.
The unfunded Section A would upgrade I-240 (as well as interchanges at Brevard, Amboy and Haywood roads) from the I-26/I-240 interchange with I-40 to the I-240 interchange with Patton Avenue by widening the entire freeway span from the current 4 to 6 or 8 lanes. So far, NCDOT believes eight lanes is appropriate.
Section B will cost $332 million and includes building the interstate on a new location from the Patton Avenue interchange north on the east side of the French Broad River, tying into U.S. 19/23/70 south of Broadway. This would involve building three new elevated highway structures and numerous retaining walls north of the Bowen Bridge to remove everything but local traffic from the existing bridge span.
The $222.5 million Section C calls for upgrades for interchanges at Smokey Park Highway (U.S. 19/23/74A), as well as I-26/I-240 and Brevard Road. It would maintain the existing two-level configuration of the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange and add additional through lanes, as well as a new loop from I-240 West to I-40 East and a ramp from I-40 West to I-240 East.