The City of Asheville has long argued that it would like to turn Patton Avenue into a local boulevard that is pedestrian and bike-friendly. While this goal seems laudable on the face of it, the negative consequences of that decision and what it takes to accomplish it haven’t really been made public. To remove everything but local traffic from the Bowen Bridge requires that the existing one highway/bridge span be augmented by three additional elevated highways: one that takes I-26 traffic north; and two curved fly-overs that carry I-240 traffic east and west on separate elevated highways. NCDOT envisions that these highways will be eight lanes wide with additional shoulder and feeder ramp lanes. At the base of historic Riverside Cemetery, this elevated monstrosity will be 12 highway lanes wide!
Originally, the goal of removing everything but local traffic from the Bowen Bridge was raised in 1999 as a way to fix the safety hazards involved in having drivers shift lanes on the bridge based on whether they are continuing onto I-26, merging onto I-240, or heading downtown via Patton Avenue. This weaving creates a significant traffic safety risk. But building three new elevated highways of four to eight lanes each over the French Broad River is not the right answer.
In fact, creating two new curved elevated highways over the French Broad River to handle I-240 traffic poses a significant new safety threat. According to a 2004 study by the national Transportation Research Board, approximately 25% of fatal crashes each year occur along horizontal curves like those envisioned for Section B. Additionally, the study states that “the average accident rate for horizontal curves is about three times the average accident rate for highway tangents.” In a nutshell, this means that the accident danger associated with the current I-26 routing north of the Bowen Bridge will just be replaced by creating an even more dangerous new configuration for I-240. This problem is made even more acute by the fact that the elevated highways will be used by many tourists who are unfamiliar with the road network and a large population of elderly drivers/retirees who relocate here.