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Road advisers vote to dump Kanuga in favor of I-26-U.S. 64 interchange

Cutline Henderson County’s Transportation Advisory Committee voted to dump the Kanuga Road widening in favor of a new I-26 interchange at Four Seasons Boulevard. The recommendation is part of a process to ‘right-size’ the NCDOT’s 10-year STIP.

Henderson County’s transportation advisers got their first look recently at the consequences of construction inflation and a statewide shortage of cash to fix problems, improve safety and widen roads. The result: Many projects are moving further into the future, some so far out that they’re now “decommitted” in the next State Transportation Improvement Plan.

At its regular meeting earlier this month, the Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the new spending blueprint bump the Kanuga Road improvement in favor of a new I-26 interchange at Four Seasons Boulevard to fix safety and congestions problems.
Tristan Winkler, executive director of the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization, explained to TAC members the process the NCDOT has adopted to delay hundreds of projects around the state based on the available transportation funding. A draft State Transportation Improvement Plan for the years 2024-2033 “reflects the need to right-size the state’s transportation budget, currently more than $8 billion overprogrammed,” a staff report said. To drive that “right-sizing,” MPOs, the regional advisory boards that guide transportation funding, are determining which projects stay in the 10-year STIP and which drop out.
“We’re moving these things, moving them out,” said Fletcher Town Council member Bob Davy said. “Some of these are very sorely needed,” specifically N.C. 191 west of N.C. 280 in Mills River and South Buncombe and Sweeten Creek Road in Asheville. “I just read today that development is going up, 680 units (in the area). How are those people going to be able to move?”
Chuck McGrady, the former N.C. House member who now serves on the state Transportation Board, explained the thinking behind the draft plan, which dumps some badly needed improvements.
“There’s no doubt Sweeten Creek is needed,” McGrady responded, “but it’s also one of the most expensive projects in the state and it’s not far enough along” to get funded.

Kanuga dropped

Flat Rock Village Council member Anne Coletta pointed out that besides facing widespread opposition from residents, the Kanuga widening from Church Street to Little River Road also faces hurdles over historic properties.
An initial review by the state Historic Preservation Office identified “adverse effects … that will take a significant amount of work and bureaucracy” to resolve.
Further tilting the call against the Kanuga project was the timing. Right-of-way acquisition is not scheduled until 2028, followed by start of construction in 2031. Board members said the interchange improvement would likely require minimal new right of way or none at all and could get under way quicker.
On the other hand, board members worried that Henderson County would lose highway money longer term by swapping the $52 million Kanuga improvement for the $35.5 million Four Seasons Boulevard-I-26 fix.
“If this group opted to move up the interchange and drop down Kanuga, $17 million would not be available to us,” said Laurel Park Mayor Carey O’Cain. Whatever problems the Kanuga widening presents, he argued, ought not be insurmountable.
“Kanuga is scheduled for 2031,” he said. “We can’t figure out in nine years what to do? I think the three entities — Henderson County, Hendersonville and Flat Rock — ought to get your heads together and figure out what you want to do. I don’t think we ought to just say bye-bye to $17 million.”
But McGrady, who as a Transportation Board member is intimately familiar with the NCDOT’s thinking for ranking major road projects, urged the local advisers to focus less on project costs, which can be a moving target and have proven in recent years often to be substantially lower on paper than on the bid-letting day.
“As the process moves forward these numbers change,” he said. “The problem in the past was there wasn’t a lot of really good updating (of cost estimates) of some of these projects until relatively late. Some of these projects moved up and suddenly they had an extra zero or two at the end of them. The real issue you need to figure out is what your priorities are and try to make it happen.”

Some projects survive, if delayed

There’s still many steps and many months to go before a new STIP is adopted. The MPO and DOT will continue public engagement on the plan this summer. The MPO will recommend project swaps in August and September followed by more public comment next spring then a new STIP adoption in the summer of 2023.
Here are other Henderson County projects and year of construction start in the current draft plan, with change from previous STIP:
• N.C. 191 widening from N.C. 280 in Mills River to Mountain Road in Hendersonville, 2024.
• U.S. 64 West improvements and roundabouts in Hendersonville and Laurel Park, 2024.
• Blythe Street sidewalks from N.C. 191 to U.S. 64, 2026 to 2027.
• Grove Street sidewalks from Barnwell Street to Spartanburg Highway, 2026 to 2027.
• White Street widening and extension from Willow Road to Spartanburg Highway, 2026 to 2029.
• South Main, Church and King streets including replacement of Mud Creek bridge, 2026 to 2029.