The project has become so huge as a direct result of the City’s goals of removing everything but local traffic from the Bowen Bridge to accommodate the boulevard dream of making the Bowen Bridge a pedestrian-friendly connection between downtown and West Asheville. Absent that one goal, there would be no necessity to build two additional and dangerous elevated highway structures to handle I-240 traffic.
Additionally, without getting bogged down in “transportation planning speak” highway projects of this scope are meant to last for decades and carry traffic counts that transportation planners project over the long term. Federal highway guidance is provided to the states regarding “level of service” (LOS) requirements. LOS is a qualitative measurement analysis that judges how long motorists are generally stuck in traffic or free-flowing on any given highway segment under normal conditions. Because this project (and most highway projects) are funded by the federal government, NCDOT must listen. As one could guess, however, future traffic projections and LOS designations are as much an art as they are science.
Unfortunately, the I-26 Connector project has become a perfect example of an overkill solution. According to NCDOT’s own traffic projections for 2033 as shown in the chart below, the average daily traffic counts (ADT) on the various Section B highway segments don’t justify a doubling or tripling of highway traffic lanes.
While the whole chart can be mind-numbing to review, feel free to just look at the section in pink. This data shows that if you imagine traffic as it was in the Section B area circa 2014, the traffic counts projected for 2033 are just minimally higher than they were then: 12% higher on I-26 south of the Bowen Bridge; 17% higher on the bridge; and 26% on I-26 north of the Bowen Bridge if absolutely no new highway structures are built! The idea of constructing 8 lanes of highway with additional shoulders and on/off ramps to accommodate such minimal traffic increases is a bad deal for Asheville and for taxpayers in general. In fact, the I-26 Connector project was cited as a “highway boondoggle” by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) in 2014 because “since 2004 traffic has not increased significantly along that stretch of road.”