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‘Good to be here for my periodic drubbing,’ Mayfield tells CIBO
Tuesday, 02 April 2019 23:20
By JOHN NORTH
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A report on the progress (or lack thereof) on the I-26 Connector project that is to cross West Asheville and cost an estimated $950 million was presented by Julie Mayfield, a member of Asheville City Council and an environmental activist, to the Council of Independent Business Owners on March 1.

 About 50 people attended the group’s breakfast meeting at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

On a separate and unrelated matter, Buncombe County Commissioner Mike Fryaer gave a status report on the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College tax issue.

The third and final presentation was made by city Planning Director Todd Okolichany on the 2019 work plan for Asheville’s Planing Department.

Speaking last, Mayfield, a political liberal who noted that she moved from Atlanta in 2008 to become executive director of the local environmental protection group MountainTrue, began her presentation by quippng that “it’s good to be here for my periodic drubbing from this group” — a reference to the conservative-leaning CIBO.

Turning more serious, Mayfeld asserted, “There’s been this thing (with CIBO saying) that my organization has been the problem, or I’ve been the problem” that has caused a decades-long delay in the I-26 widening and I-26 Connector projects.

‘I’d just like to point out.... The narrative that I see of this project is very tight community collaboration” in making the I-26 Connector the best-possible project it can be. “That has happened here again,” she said, referring to the latest changes that the NCDOT has agreed to make to the project.

For “those of us who have been involved with this project for the last 15-20 years...The (CIBO) narrative that the city is at fault for all of this...  is wrong. Hopefully, I can show this to you.... What we’re talking about here is this (I-26) Connector section... Here’s a little timeline, just to remind everyone.”

Mayfield added, “The city hasn’t (simply) made up what it wants” on the I-26 Connector. Instead, she said, “The city has given broad” direction with lots of lattitude to NCDOT.

“It was this community working together… all with (NC) DOT at the table.”

As for CIBO’s past contentions that the project has been long-delayed, Mayfield asserted, “It’s important to note that it’s not unusual for projects like these to take a long time.”

In her review of the project’s timeline, Mayfield noted that in the 1980s, NCDOT proposed the project and the city requested that it cross through Asheville.

In the period of 1997 to 2000, she said NCDOT proposed alternatives 2 and 3.

“In 2009,  first time, you see a real divide between the city and the county. (NC) DOT didn’t like that. They like local governments united.... Even so, (NC) DOT went again.” trying to proceed forward.

“However, the funding was pulled. I think that was due to the recession. The funding was finally restored in 2012.

“You had some ‘flaming liberals’” involved in the questioning of the I-26 Connector project over the years, Mayfield said in reference to CIBO criticisms, “but I wouldn’t call (former city councilman and tire store owner) Jan Davis a ‘flaming liberal’ — or the chamber’s Lou Bissette.”

She added, “In 2015, (NC) DOT issued a new draft EIS.” In response, “the city supports Alternatives. 4 and 4B. The city and NCDOT agree to form a working group to resolve ourtstanding concerns with 4 and 4B.”

As for 2016, she said, “(NC) DOT selects 4B as the preferred alternative, which originated with the Asheville Design Center, and begins more intense design and discussions with they city.” (Mayfield had supported the ADC’s involvement in the project.)

In a jab at CIBO, Mayfield said, “You might not like endangered species,” but delays to protect nature will pay off in the long-run.

Mayfield then asked, rhetorically, “What did all this fight get us? It’s only through the persistence of the people working on this project for years (that a number of residents) won’t lose their homes — and you won’t have to pay for it. They’ve saved 50 homes in the last year from the redesign” that Mayfield and others sought.

Mayfield also listed the following other accomplishments by her and her allies:

• Six — rather than the proposed eight—  lanes through West Asheville

• Dozens fewer residential.business relocations than would have occurred under the 2008 or 2015 designs

• Emma and Burton streets spared major residential losses

• Mauy miles of new mutli-use paths and greenway connectors

• Patton Avenue “will become a surface street and new gateway to downtown,” contrary to original NCDOT plans.

“If we get what we want, that means increased tax base for the city,” Mayberry told the CIBO gathering. “This is the way the city is going to be successful — by going in and up... Again, we wouldn’t have gotten this if we hadn’t gotten into this about 20 years ago” and fought with NCDOT for improvements to the original project.

After a pause, Mayfield asserted, “So, as for the question…. ‘Why are we still holding things up and what’s our problem?’”

In response, she said, “We’re not holding anything up. These are happy, cooperative conversations” between locals concerned about making the best out of the I-26 Connector project , along with well-meaning NCDOT officials.

“There’s still time to refine the design… to maybe we could save some more houses on Hill Street. A third big area is the design of the Bowen Bridge. 

“We want fewer lanes of traffic and more lanes for bikes and pedestrians,” Mayfield said. “The city’s job is to make this project better for the city — rather than just be a throughway between South Carolina and Tennessee. And that’s been the goal.” 

During a question-and-answer session that followed, CIBO member Mac Swicegood said, “On this project, this is a regional highway… But city councils — not just you — have been self-centered in looking at this. It impacts every city using it...

“Right now, people are being killed” as a result of the delay in construction to the I-26 Connector,” Swicegood asserted. “What you all have done is unconsiounable!”

In response, Mayfield  noted that Swicegood’s and CIBO’s criticism of the efforts of her and others come from the conservative side — and that she also has caught flak on other road issues from the liberal side. “If I’m getting criticism from both sides, I’m right where I need to be,” she reasoned, with a laugh.

Fryar, who gave an unrelated presentation earlier in the meeting, told Mayfield, “This is a road that has to get through this county. Roads are built to move traffic....”

Responding to Fryar’s assertion, Mayfield said that any highway built in the area will be inadequate. “It’s going to jam up, again,” even with the widening of I-26 and the new I-26 Connector through the city.


 



 


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