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Merrimon Avenue widening plan sparks opposition
Sunday, 11 February 2018 11:47

From Staff Reports 

Members of Asheville City Council added to their agenda at the last minute a discussion of plans the North Carolina Department of Transportation recently unveiled for Merrimon Avenue. 

Mayor Esther Manheimer, who has lived several years in the area, said she knew the widening was somewhere on the NCDOT’s wish list, but was totally surprised to see the plans rise to the top.

 At a Jan. 8 public hearing, attended by about 160 people, the NCDOT solicited public input on what Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler described as “very detailed” plans for widening the main thoroughfare, which is also designated US 25. 

The improvements would address traffic around UNC Asheville by adding a fifth lane, which would be used for making left turns. The new lane would run between W.T. Weaver Boulevard and the Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company.

The plans also call for adding a sidewalk on the west side of the road. There has long been public interest in constructing one, but the need for a retaining wall has resulted in lower-cost projects being prioritized. There will also be a realignment of curb cuts and improvements to sidewalks in need of repair.

The DOT expects “at least one” house and “at least one business” would have to move; and part of an apartment building would have to be demolished. The project’s price tag of $2.8 million, does not include costs of engineering and right-of-way acquisition. While construction would not begin until 2019, the DOT is expected to finalize its choice of plans in a few months.

While grumblings about the need for a turn lane on Merrimon have been heard for decades, Wisler, who was in attendance at the Jan. 8 meeting with many members of council, said she did not hear any support for the plan from attendees. Manheimer said council had received numerous emails opposing the project as well.

Wisler said nobody had solicited input from council or members of the public prior to the unveiling, and the DOT had paid no heed to any of the city’s numerous plans for multimodal transportation. Wisler described the plan as having a large footprint, taking away from neighborhoods, and “allowing more car action.”

The city’s Transportation Director Ken Putnam explained the DOT had extended the deadline, to a date now past, for input; and that the DOT would accept the comments the city would forward them within a few days.

Additional actions council wanted to take included directing staff to work with the DOT to make sure the plan aligns with existing city plans. Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, who noted several other streets are slated for DOT improvements in the near future, said U.S. 25 may be managed by the state, but, “these are our streets.”

Council also asked staff to draft a resolution for discussion at council’s next meeting, February 13. Wisler said in addition to expressing disappointment, it should call for new policies and procedures to make sure the DOT never excludes city leadership from its plans again.



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