State accelerates work on Interstate 40 interchange

Paul Clark and Mark Barrett

State transportation officials have moved up construction of a new Interstate 40 interchange near Blue Ridge Road on the east side of Black Mountain.

Construction of the $5.8 million project will begin in 2023, according to the Department of Transportation’s new Transportation Improvement Program plan. Right-of-way purchases would start in 2021, instead of in 2024 under the old plan.

A short section of Blue Ridge Road from I-40 to U.S. 70 would be widened to three lanes. No design work has been done, according to Rick Tipton, regional construction engineer. The project was moved up because of the way it scored on criteria such as congestion, safety and travel time savings, he said.

The interchange would be located near the Ingles warehouse on U.S. 70 from which Ingles supplies its stores. Completion of the project would likely improve traffic through downtown Black Mountain, which has seen Ingles warehouse trucks come through town.

The state DOT had planned several years ago to build the I-40 exit at Blue Ridge Road. But opposition from neighborhood residents and local officials postponed that plan.

Changing attitudes helped speed work, said David Brown, who represents Buncombe and other area counties on the Board of Transportation.

“We’re not trying to push it down anybody’s throat,” he said.

Town manager Matt Settlemyer said Jan. 8, “With the growth in Black Mountain and the expansion of the Ingles distribution center, the consensus of the (town) board is we’re for the Blue Ridge Road interchange.”

Tractor-trailers going to the Ingles Markets facility on the eastern edge of Black Mountain or other businesses in the area often travel through the heart of downtown en route from I-40. That often slows traffic in town, Settlemyer said. A new interchange would allow trucks headed to the distribution facility to avoid downtown.

The transportation board also added a project to build a new road between N.C. 9 south of Black Mountain to U.S. 70 Business on the east side of town at an estimated cost of $6.6 million. No route has been chosen.

Mark Barrett of The Asheville Citizen-Times contributed to this story.