Answering this question is a bit complex. When a major highway project is in the planning stages for decades, it can end up going seriously off-course because new generations of government officials are working on it, and the project goals aren’t revisited or updated. Details are lost or forgotten and decisions meander forward whether they still make sense or not.
When it comes to the I-26 Connector project, three groups have been convened by Asheville to work on this project over the years – in the early 1990’s it was the “Asheville Connector Advisory Committee.” In 2000, it was the Asheville “Community Coordinating Committee” (CCC). Finally, in 2007, the Asheville Design Center (ADC) took the lead based on the recommendations of the City’s “Aesthetics Committee.” Over the years, different volunteers who worked on the project have come and gone, but there is still a group of well-meaning people who made decisions a decade ago and they have a sense of ownership in moving those decisions forward. It’s a tough thing for people who have been involved as volunteers on a project for so long to have the energy to take a fresh look at things, and yes, there’s probably some ego involved that makes backtracking from those decisions even tougher.
Obviously, NCDOT wants this highway built or they wouldn’t have been willing to devote so much money to the project and be willing to pay more than necessary just to get the whole thing completed. Over the decades of planning, dealing with the City of Asheville has not been easy for NCDOT because the City convened groups of volunteers to design the highway project, rather than working with highway engineering consultants to guide the planning negotiations. While all these volunteers are/were talented professionals spanning expertise from city planning to transit planning, to residential and landscape architecture, to environmental activism, they lacked any expertise in highway design. What the ADC group designed a decade ago as a “signature bridge” and double-decker highway won’t be built. Instead, the Asheville City Council is now in the position of supporting a highway plan that can’t be downsized due to federal highway design standards in return for securing from NCDOT a bike lane over the Bowen Bridge. This trade-off makes no sense for the people and economy of Asheville. Asheville and NCDOT need to hit the “reset” button on this project.