The North Carolina Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on its proposed Interstate 26 connector. Photo by Angie Newsome.

Regional public hearing on transportation projects scheduled for Tuesday

The proposed Interstate 26 connector in Asheville is currently on hold for at least the next 10 years, barring further review by the N.C. Department of Transportation, a spokesman said Monday.

The news comes as the agency plans to hold a public hearing Tuesday in Morganton for projects in District 13 that will use federal funds between now and 2016, which are included in the proposed final version of the State Transportation Improvement Plan. [PDF: large document] District 13 includes Buncombe, Burke, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Rutherford and Yancey counties.

Van Argabright, State Transportation Improvement Plan manager, said Monday that the agency began a process to reprioritize state transportation projects about two years ago. By combining technical information such as accident and traffic data with public input and information from the Rural Planning Organizations and Metropolitan Planning Organizations, state engineers came up with a new priority rankings for state transportation needs.

Higher-ranking projects received funding commitments first. The I-26 connector project was one of the lowest-ranked loop projects in the state, and is now currently unfunded until at least 2020.

“At this point, we do not have a construction schedule (for the I-26 connector),” Argabright said. “We don’t know when it would get funded.”

The project will be the projects open for comment during Tuesday’s public hearing. The hearing will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at Western Piedmont Community College, Foothills Higher Education Center, 2128 South Sterling St., in Morganton. Comments are also being accepted online.

Other projects up for discussion include proposed changes to add additional lanes to N.C. 280 to Interstate 40 in Asheville, an upgrade to the tunnel on McDowell Street in Asheville and interstate maintenance in Burke, McDowell, Buncombe and Madison counties. View the full listing of proposed changes to the State Transportation Improvement Plan for District 13 here. [PDF]

The agency anticipates finalizing the plan this summer, with the state Board of Transportation voting on the document this fall. State budget negotiations currently underway could change the timeline, Argabright said.

“If the Legislature were to change the budget drastically,” he said, “we would obviously have to respond to that.”

While the I-26 connector is currently unfunded, there is, however, the possibility that the agency’s Strategic Planning Office could change and even bump up the project’s priority listing and funding.

It is in the process of looking at smaller segments of projects across the state, to see whether it makes sense to change certain rankings, Argabright said.

“That could change things,” he said.

The proposed 5.1-mile I-26 connector project would stretch from the Interstate 40 interchange with Interstate 240 and Interstate 26 just south of West Asheville, continue through the Patton Avenue interchanges, go north on a new road across the French Broad River to end at an intersection with U.S. 19-23 south of Broadway Street.

Multiple alternatives to the plan have been developed and been subject to public and governmental scrutiny. Some estimates have said the project could cost up to $600 million and would include the removal of homes in Montford and West Asheville neighborhoods.

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Angie Newsome was the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at

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