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NCDOT gives improvements update for I-26, other roads
Sunday, 03 February 2019 21:36
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The local chief of the North Carolina Department of Transportation gave an update on area highway and road improvement projects during the Jan. 11 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center:

About 50 people attended, with special recognition given to the three elected officials who were present, including state Sen. Terry Van Duyn, who is running for lieutenant governor; Brownie Newman, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners;  and Amanda Edwards, a newly elected county commissioner.

Speaking to CIBO was Mark Gibbs, district engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, who addressed:

• What roads have made the list?

• What is the timeframe for starting to work?

• How will the improvement projects affect travel?

In other action, CIBO received a progress report from Newman on the search for the next Buncombe County manager and a report on the status of the lawsuits and indictments against former county employees.

On a third matter, CIBO heard a report from Van Duyn on the upcoming state legislative session in Raleigh.

During a question-and-answer session after Gibbs’ presentation, a man identifying himself as a member of Asheville’s Multi-Modal Commission said, “I wonder about Broadway (Street). My understanding is that is was designed (when it was widened to four lanes years ago) to be a relief valve” for nearby Merrimon Avenue traffic. “It doesn’t appear to be taking place... I wonder if, in your (NCDOT) corridor study of Merrimon, if you’re also going to look at Broadway. There’s not a good connection from Broadway to Merrimon near I-240.”

Gibbs agreed with that assessment and said NCDOT is looking at ways to divert more traffic from Merrimon onto Broadway.

Another unidentified man, speaking separately, said that, “as for Merrimon (Avenue) —  to get that right” with traffic flow and other consideratons is critically important for the city. The man lamented what he termed “the lack of left-turn signals on W.T. Weaver Boulevard” and on Merrimon.

In response, Gibbs said, “That was the whole contention at the hearing on (a proposed widening of a section of) Merrimon. My ‘congestion’ folks (specialists) in Raleigh said there is not a lot of commuter traffic on Merrimon.”

However, given the outpouring of citizen opposition to proposed changes at the recent hearing, “We realize we can’t do much widening on Merrimon.. We’re trying to balance all of those concerns.” As a result, the NCDOT is going back to the drawing board to consider possibility for the road, he said.

CIBO member Mac Swicegood  told Gibbs, “I’m amazed that we’ve got all this work (going on) at one time.”

Then, he added, “When I talk to DOT (officials), safety is the first thing I’ve heard y’all brag about,” but Swicegood said he wondered how safety could be given much of a priority with what he sees as a dangerous cluster of road projects being launched almost simultaneously.

“Where you have heavy traffic, we plan to most of that work at night,” Gibbs replied. “On I-26, we will do our best to maintain two lanes” open during the days and “we’ll do our best to do any lane closures at night….”

Another unidentified man told Gibbs he had heard a “discussion” among his friends and acquaintances about purported NCDOT plans for Hendersonville Road.

The man said he was told “they (NCDOT officials) are proposing taking it (Hendersonville Road) down to two lanes (permanently), leaving the other two lanes for a bus lane to run back and forth to the airport. Is there any concern that the DOT will entertain that?” he asked.

As the CIBO crowd broke into laughter, Gibbs, trying to maintain a straight face, said succinctly, “No!”

Gibbs then added, “We (NCDOT) have a great working relationship with the (Asheville Regional) airport... We have to address the buses... Again, one of the foremost concerns we have is safety. But we also have to move traffic,” so Hendersonville Road — with its five lanes (including a center turning lane) will remain as it is for vehicular traffic.

When Gibbs gave his report earlier, he began by noting, “Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today concerning trasnportation issues and projects in the Asheville area.”

He added that there has been “lots of internal changes/turnover within D-13 and foks who have not been in their positions very long.” For instance, Gibbs noted that he has been in his job for four months.

However, Gibbs asserted, “We’ve got a lot going on in the Asheville area” and “it’s a critical-but-exciting time for the transportation industry in North Carolina.. .We’ve got to be forward-thinking” as a DOT... We’re always trying to be innovative in product-delivery.”

Gibbs also stressed that NCDOT is concerned about safety and ways to help communities economically — and always “to be more accountable and transparent.”

He then reviewed area road projects under construction, summarized projects in development and detailed projects scheduled for construction beginning in 2019. (See sidebar of Gibbs’ summary on Page A14 for details.)

In closing remarks, Gibbs said that “MPOs and RPOs are lead agencies for submitting projects to DOT,” so those projects will be evaluated/prioritized for funding and ,“if you’re not already working closely with these local groups, make sure you start doing so.”

Later in the meeting, Newman began his update on the search process for a new county manager by noting, “It’s a process we’re well into right now. Slavin Management from Georgia is helping with the process…. We’re looking for someone with considerable experience in local government…. We want someone obviously with strong financial management and strong ethical” credentials. (The CIBO audience chuckled when Newman mentioned the word “ethical.”)

About two weeks ago, “Slavin presented us with some candidates,” Newman said. “We have cut it down and are focusing on about a half-dozen very-qualified candidates. We’d like to have a new county manager hired and in the job by February.

Regarding the county lawsuit against former county manager Wanda Greene and other ex-county employees, Newman said, “We are represented by Ron Payne. The county’s goal was to make the taxpayers fully whole. This includes the insurance policy, fraudulent use of credit cards and the kickback scheme with contractor Joe Wiseman. The last thing we want to make county whole on is on their claims of unpaid vacation days. 

“The good news is the efforts have made the taxpayers’ whole. More than $2 million has been fully repaid to the county. Wanda Greene has agreed to pay be $750,000 to the county. (Mandy) Stone, (Jon) Creighton and Joe Wiseman”  have been, or will be, dealt with. “We’re not going to take our foot off the pedal until we’re there,” Newman said.

During a Q&A, Asheville resident Sidney Bach said, “In view of what has transpired, what specific internal checks and balances is the commissioners going to demand and impose to keep this from recurring?”

“Well,” Newman replied, “a lot has been done over the last year. The county manager has much less discretion on any major spending. Any major spending has to be approved by the commissioners in open meeting. The granting of bonuses to county employees is limited to $1,000.”

An unidentified man said, “The settlement has been made for $750,000 with Wanda. Does she have the $750,000?”

“Yes,” Newman answered, “the payment has been made.”

Another man asked, “What efforts are being made for the years where she has given herself retention bonuses and retirement?

“We believe those funds should be paid back,” Newman replied. “We do believe the county should be made whole for the funds in the retirement. We’re actively involved in all of that.

Yet another man asked, “Who in the world was auditing this” for the county?

“The county has changed auditors,” Newman answered. “It’s very hard for county officials to accept that the audits came back clean, but they did. So those are the facts that we have…. We have done more to increase the independence of the county’s audit committee.” He noted that commissioners Robert Pressley and Al Whitesides are now serving on the audit committee.

A man asked, “What have you done in regard to bids from contractors?”

“We spent a good deal of time on that issue,” Newman replied. “Most bidding processes are set up by the state. The problem in the Wiseman case is it’s a consulting contract. It’s less of a bidding process and more of a subjective process. So we have changed our contracting processes to make them more stringent. We’re requriing all of them to be reviewed by the county commissioners.”

On a third and separate matter, CIBO was told by Van Duyn in her legislative update that “there has been a pretty significant change in the legislature. The minority party (the Democrats) can now sustain a veto by the governor in the House and the Senate.”


NCDOT’s project status  shows plans, activity

From Staff Reports

Below is a listing of Buncombe County area (Division 13) road project development, as presented by Mark Gibbs, district engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, to the Council of Independent Business Owners on Jan. 11 at UNC Asheville:

Following are projects currently under construction

• NC 191 interchange Brevard Road and I-26, construction to be completed December 2020, contract price $47.5 million. 

• Leicester Hwy, construction to be completed July 2020, contract price $34.9 million.

• Exit Ramps I-40 Exit 50 and 51, construction to be completed March 2019, contract price $2.2 million.

• Bowen Bridge Rehabilitation, construction to be completed August 2019, contract price $6.7 million.

• I-40 MP 37 to MP 44 paving, guardrail and bridge rehab, construction to be completed December 2018 (pavement markings remain), contract price $10.4 million.

• I-40 MP 46 to MP 50 Bridge rehab (Biltmore Bridges), construction to be completed November 2019, contract price $8.7 million.

• Buncombe resurfacing 2018, construction to be completed August 2019, contract price $12.8 million.

• Buncombe resurfacing 2019, construction to be completed October 2019, contract price $14.8 million.

• Asheville Buncombe Signal project (tying major signals across the county together), construction to be completed December 2020, contract price $10.7 million.

• ADA ramp compliance, construction just completed, contract price $1 million. Approximately $3 million to be let in future projects.

11) Various projects — currently there are 10 smaller projects under construction ranging from guardrail replacement to small bridge and culvert replacements, totaling an additional $14 million.


Summary of projects in development

• Currently there are approximately 32 STIP projects in development in Buncombe County with approximately 26 of those being within the city limits of Asheville.

• Total approximate value of these projects is $2 billion.

• Includes both roadway projects and multi-modal projects ($5 million).

• Projects are determined through the prioritization process which includes collaboration with French Broad River MPO, local government, and public input.  Selected projects are placed in the STIP for development and construction.

• The STIP is a 10-year program that is updated on 2-year cycles.

• Draft 2020-2029 STIP was released Jan. 10.

Projects scheduled for construction beginning in 2019

 • I-26 widening (I-4700)

I-4700 is an 8.6-mile stretch that extends along I-26 from N.C. 280 west to the I-40/240 interchange. Work will also involve replacing the Blue Ridge Parkway Bridge over I-26.  

NCDOT anticipates opening bids May 2019.  Construction scheduled to begin late summer/fall of 2019 and last approximately 5 years.

Approximate cost of project $275 million.


• NC 191 @ Long Shoals Road

Construct left turn lane on NC 191.

Approximate cost $2 million.


• Overlook Rd @ US 25 (SM-5713D)

Construct intersection improvements

Approximate cost $1 million


• Merrimon Avenue

Initiate corridor study from I-240 to the Beaverdam Community to determine if adjustments in traffic volumes can be made to commuter through traffic in the region while incorporating a complete streets design.


• Leicester at Patton (U-5971A) interim intersection improvements

Addition of third left turn lane from Leicester to Patton.

Maintain right turn lane from Leicester to Patton.

Addition of second left turn lane from Patton onto Leicester.

Approximate cost $1.5 million.


• Riceville Rd improvements (U-5837)

Improvements from US 70 to Clear Vista Lane.

Proposed improvements include improved lane widths and sidewalk.

Approximate cost $2 million.


• Sidewalks along Leicester Hwy (multi-modal)

From Patton Avenue to City Limits

City and NCDOT collaborating on coordination between planned highway improvements and near-term pedestrian needs

Approximate cost $3 million


• Interstate maintenance

I-40 MM 55 – 67.5 (Bridge and Pavement Improvements-Rehabilitation)

Approximate cost $29 million


Gibbs also presented a summary of recent public meetings/hearings, a listing of projects in development for construction in future years, and an update on greenways.



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