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Newfangled interchange is best design for Four Seasons, engineers say

Green lines show new road pattern. Dotted red lines show existing parts that would be eliminated, including the cloverleafs. [SOURCE: HNTB consulting engineers] Green lines show new road pattern. Dotted red lines show existing parts that would be eliminated, including the cloverleafs. [SOURCE: HNTB consulting engineers]

Motorists cowering in fear at the prospect of roundabouts guarding access to the new Publix might want to gird themselves for the newest proposal for the I-26 interchange at Four Seasons Boulevard. The design would require drivers to turn British for a few hundred yards.

Called a contraflow design, the pattern weaves cars from the right-hand lane to the left lane and thus an unobstructed left turn to an on-ramp. The current cloverleafs would be gone.
“With this traffic volume this design does remarkably well,” engineer Craig Scheffler told the Hendersonville City Council Thursday night. “That’s how it rose to the top.”
Scheffler and Wanda Austin, engineers with HNTB, which is studying interchange designs for the 22-mile I-26 widening from the U.S. 25 connector to I-40, explained design options. The engineers may also recommend another diverging diamond interchange at U.S. 25, like the new one at the airport exit that has gobsmacked some of the driving public with its counterintuitive wrong-way pattern.
“We’ve got Airport Road with a funky pattern and Four Seasons with its own funky pattern,” Councilman Jerry Smith said. “We’ve got two bridges that are close to each other that are not operating the same way.”
Motorists have been waiting for years for a wider I-26 and improvements to a hazardous interchange. With right of way acquisition planned for this year and construction next year, the project is suddenly upon us. And like the Kanuga Road and Highland Lake Road widening projects and a half dozen new roundabouts on the NCDOT’s drawing board, the interchange drawings are sure to cause anxiety.
“I almost get killed there about once a month as I travel back and forth to work,” said City Councilman Steve Caraker. “The whole thing with new traffic implementation, like when we do roundabouts, you’ve got to train people to drive safely through roundabouts. They’re not used to it. There’s a learning curve with anything you do. The people that navigate roundabouts well are the people that live near them and have to use them all the time.”
The council listened and asked questions about the proposed contraflow design but took no action to either endorse or oppose it. That design and others will be part of a public review process before the NCDOT finalizes the I-26 plans. Caraker is likely not alone in his view that anything is better than what we’ve got now.
“That interchange at Four Seasons is one of the worst I’ve ever seen and I’ve been driving a lot of years in a lot of states,” Caraker said. “It sets you up for failure the way it is now so anything would be an improvement.”

White Street overkill?

The council also took a closer look for the first time at proposed White Street improvements and heard from residents and business owners who are upset with both options. One would angle a new roadway southwest that would align with Hebron Road at Kanuga Road. A widening of the existing roadway would also encroach on businesses.
As the city’s representative on the county Transportation Advisory Committee, Caraker helped negotiate a compromise that greatly reduced the footprint of the Kanuga widening. He’s sympathetic with White Street business owners, the latest faction of constituents affected by new NCDOT plans.
“This thing with Kanuga was in my mind the best case of government and constituent interaction with a state agency because everybody kept their cool for the most part, we discussed it, it’s in process to get worked out,” Caraker said. “I think the White Street thing will probably work out a little bit the same way.”
People get emotional but they also get involved.
“This stuff is all good initially but I think the public discourse back and forth and the little bit of drama that we’ve been seeing — it engages people to get involved in local government,” he said. “It may be a threat to them but what they’re doing is they’re actually making their local government better by getting involved.”
Whether it’s a contraflow left-turn interchange or roundabouts or medians motorists can’t cross, change is in the air — or in the asphalt to come — and heartburn may give way to newfangled but effective solutions. Chalk it up to growing pains.
“The balance is, we all came here from other places to get our own little piece of heaven and now we’re going to try to shut the door on people coming behind us because we don’t want them ruining our little piece of paradise,” Caraker said. “There’s a happy medium between shutting people out and accommodating additional traffic and doing infrastructure to make sure it doesn’t get miserable.”