Any other problems with the I-26 Connector plans?

Plenty:

  • AIR POLLUTION:  NCDOT has not analyzed the impact of doubling the I-26 highway lanes on Asheville air quality and doesn’t plan to do so because the U.S. EPA doesn’t require it to.  This ignores the reality that air pollutants from cars, trucks and other motor vehicles are found in higher concentrations near major roads. People who live, work or attend school near major roads appear to have an increased incidence and severity of health problems associated with air pollution exposures related to roadway traffic including higher rates of asthma onset and aggravation, cardiovascular disease, impaired lung development in children, pre-term and low-birthweight infants, childhood leukemia, and premature death.  It is inconceivable that NCDOT won’t analyze air pollution impacts on the City’s children and elderly simply because our air is not already polluted.

 

  • NOISE IMPACTS:  People don’t live in Asheville or visit to experience the urban noise created by massive highway structures.  They can head to Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Los Angeles for that.  Instead, Asheville has prospered by the unique combination of mountain peace and exceptional charm.  In many areas along the proposed I-26 corridor, the noise from the extra highway lanes (that will sound as loud as a lawn mower at 100 feet) can’t be remedied with noise walls because the topography of the City makes them useless.   Rather than being frank about that fact, NCDOT is leading people to believe that the elevated noise impacts can and will be mitigated.

 

  • TREE & FOLIAGE DESTRUCTION:  NCDOT has presented visuals of how the three new elevated highway structures will look surrounded by mature trees and abundant foliage.  Unfortunately, this ignores the reality that all of the right-of-way the state acquires will experience the same type of tree destruction that we are now seeing in the RAD road realignment project.[1]  The beauty, erosion control, and noise muffling benefits of these mature trees all along the I-26 Connector corridor will take decades to replace once they are clear cut during construction.  Just look at this example from the work being done on I-26 near Biltmore Town Square to see what we can expect in terms of foliage destruction along the 7 miles of I-26 construction:

 

  • STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY OF HOMES DURING AND AFTER CONSTRUCTION:  The areas along the entire I-26 Connector corridor are heavily populated with homes, businesses, landmarks, and historical sites.  Many of these structures are built on top of the same mountain ridges that NCDOT will need to undercut and blast into while building the new highway lanes and access ramps.  While NCDOT claims to have the expertise to handle such construction, they haven’t yet done the geotechnical investigation for the project sites in areas that Buncombe County has designated as high or medium risk for land stability.  If things go wrong, will it be incumbent upon individual property owners to cover the costs of structural engineers and attorneys to fight for compensation?

 

  • DESTRUCTION OF HOMES AND BUSINESSES AND DIMINISHED PROPERTY VALUES:  The people of Asheville who will lose their homes and businesses are our neighbors and have a stake in our City.  It makes little sense to sacrifice their interests for the benefit of interstate traffic that doesn’t need to be traveling through Asheville.  If one reviews the 2015 DEIS, it appears that even NCDOT is confused about the number of homes and businesses the state will have to condemn because the data differs based on what page one is reviewing.  No matter what the final number ends up being, the 200-plus businesses and homes that will need to be razed to construct I-26 as NCDOT now plans are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of property impacts.  That’s because many additional homes and businesses close to the highway structures will have some of their land acquired and end up facing towering retaining or noise walls, or experience such an increase in highway noise that property values will drop.  There is no monetary compensation planned by NCDOT for people who experience these indirect losses.

 

  • VISUAL IMPACTS:  NCDOT has conceded in the DEIS that its I-26 Connector plans will “adversely impact the sensitive view from the Biltmore Estate” and that “each build alternative would introduce a new prominent feature that would be out of context with the existing viewshed.”  While the idea of facilitating interstate highway traffic and removing everything but local traffic from the Jeff Bowen Bridge sounds good in theory, the ensuing visual negatives, as well as community and landscape destruction promises to outweigh these theoretical benefits for the people who live in, work in, and visit Asheville.

 

  • CONSTRUCTION-RELATED IMPACTS:  Beyond dealing with a super-sized highway when it’s finished, the complexity of the construction and the fact that the project will be built in three separate stages is going to make the construction phase of the project a complete nightmare for Asheville. Looking again at the example of I-26 work near Biltmore Town Square, repairs to that single short span of highway have tied up traffic for years.  Even under the best of on-time construction scenarios, the building and widening of all the new highways will take more than a decade to complete for just the two sections of highway that are funded.  During that time span, highway traffic surrounding Asheville will be backed up on a perpetual basis.  This will definitely impact the economy in Asheville – from the hotels, to restaurants, to galleries and stores, to music venues.  Because many of Asheville businesses are locally-owned and not just branches of large commercial chains they are especially at-risk for survival when business declines due to the fact that people will avoid coming into Asheville.  Simply put, they can’t be expected to survive and grow through a decade long construction-induced business famine.

 

 

[1] Depicted in green and black in the project maps at https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/I26Connector/

 

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