NCDOT unveils potential designs for Blue Ridge Road interchange
Plans that will impact the flow of traffic in the Swannanoa Valley and beyond were unveiled to the public on Dec. 13.
N.C. Department of Transportation officials presented three designs that would convert the existing grade separation where I-40 passes over Blue Ridge Road to an interchange. The project, which will also include the construction of a roundabout where Blue Ridge Road and N.C. 9 meet, is intended to increase connectivity in the region.
Construction on the project, identified by the DOT as State Transportation Improvement Plan I-4409, is set to begin in 2021. Right-of-way acquisitions, which will impact several property owners within the footprint of the project, are set to begin in the 2019 fiscal year.
Dozens of area residents, many of whom received notices in the mail for the public meeting held at the Lakeview Center, were given the opportunity to meet with DOT engineers and staff. Attendees were able to ask questions about the project and provide feedback or voice concerns.
Black Mountain Alderman Larry Harris, who sits on the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization in the Rural Transit Representative seat, attended the meeting.
Harris has served over five years on the board of the FBRMPO, which is a collaborative effort between the state and local governments that helps guide decisions related to transportation planning.
Discussions among town officials about an interchange at Blue Ridge Road began nearly 20 years ago. The project was added the DOT State Transportation Improvement Plan for 2004-2010.
Opposition to the interchange prompted aldermen to reverse course in 2007.
The proposal gained momentum again after a brewery, which ultimately chose another location, considered a site near the overpass for expansion.
“The board of aldermen, at that point in time, voted affirmatively to ask the MPO to get it back on the list,” Harris said. “It’s been moved forward by every board since then. By the time I arrived at the MPO it was already solidly on the list.”
The interchange will allow tractor-trailers traveling east from commercial businesses in the area to bypass downtown Black Mountain.
“It will help ease the congestion through town, and that worked in favor of getting the interchange funded,” Harris said.
Years before construction is set to begin, the project has already had an impact on the area, according to Harris.
"It's a big reason Avadim (Technologies) chose that site to expand their business," he said. "They knew the interchange was funded and would be a reality."
In addition to converting the grade separation to an interchange, the project will also involve replacing the Blue Ridge Road bridge that crosses the Swannanoa River. North of I-40, Blue Ridge Road to U.S. 70 will be widened to three lanes.
The concepts for the interchange each share a feature, NCDOT Divsion 13 project development engineer Steve Cannon said.
"One benefit that's common across all three of these is that going with a roundabout design lets us retain two-lane traffic under the bridge," he said. "That allows us to retain those bridges on I-40, whereas if we did turn lanes with an intersection on either side we'd have a hard time fitting all of that under the existing bridge."
The first design featured what plans referred to as a "peanut" roundabout, which would connect Veterans Park Drive and the entrance of the Black Mountain Commerce Park to Blue Ridge Road and the westbound ramp. South of I-40, a teardrop roundabout would connect Access Road, Blue Ridge Road and the eastbound ramp.
That design would allow westbound traffic exiting to move farther north on Blue Ridge Road before dispersing, Cannon said, but it would also require northbound traffic to travel to the end of the project to access properties on the west side of the street.
"It's a little lengthier drive to access places," he said. "Option two addresses that by replacing the teardrop designs with full roundabouts."
Those circles would make Veterans Park and other locations easier to get to, according to Cannon.
"The con to this design is that traffic on the ramp has a better chance of getting backed up if you start to have congestion in the area," he said.
The third option, which contains the largest right-of-way footprint, is a combination of the first two.
"It still keeps the teardrops immediately adjacent to I-40, allowing us to retain the bridge," Cannon said. "But it gives you the full movement of a roundabout on the (north) end. This is the best combination of access and preventing backups on the ramp."
The project will not include work on Blue Ridge Road between I-40 and N.C. 9.
"But the Blue Ridge Road and N.C. 9 intersection came up as a difficult area to maneuver," Cannon said. "The two roads come in at very similar angles, and with the speed of traffic coming through the intersection, the idea of putting a roundabout here helps slow that traffic down and help makes it clear who has the right-of-way."
Among those attendance at the meeting were property owners who would be impacted by the project. Doug Brock owns a duplex he built in 2006 that serves as a rental property. The home sits in the right-of-way for every design.
"I recognize the need for an new interstate exchange to relieve the truck traffic generated by Ingles and Avadim and I support it," he said. "I was pleased to hear how well my tenants would be treated with relocation assistance but remain skeptical that the compensation the DOT will offer me will be sufficient to replace the investment property in Black Mountain."
Brock, a Black Mountain resident, is also concerned about potential for re-zoning along Blue Ridge Road that he believes will result from the project.
"Blue Ridge Road is basically going to become a byway connecting two interstate locations within a mile of each other," Brock said. "Development pressures will be high."
With the public meeting complete, the NCDOT team working on the project will review the comments and consider any modifications to the proposed designs. Following a comparison of the alternative designs and an environmental review, the NCDOT will select a preferred alternative and move into the final design phase.
Maps of the proposed designs can be viewed at ncdot.gov/news/public-meetings/Pages/i-4409-2018-12-13.aspx.
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