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In early 2012, as New Belgium Brewing Co. prepared to purchase land on Craven St. in West Asheville, the City of Asheville identified five possible routes (pictured above) for tractor trailers carrying material to and from the property, of which Haywood Road through East West Asheville to I-240 was perceived as having the fewest technical issues. A promising route (in blue) turning north onto Riverside Drive from the Craven St. bridge and entering the interstate at Hill St. near Hillcrest or Broadway was ruled out because the turn at the end of Craven St. was too tight and the yellow Norfolk Southern railroad bridge on Riverside Drive six inches too low for full-size tractor trailers.
That summer, the East West Asheville Neighborhood Association (EWANA) formed, initially to serve as a point of contact for issues surrounding the planned brewery. The expected volume of truck traffic, up to 104 truck trips per day at full production, soon emerged as a galvanizing issue for the neighborhood. As the project wound toward approval, EWANA leaders collected over 900 community members’ signatures on a petition asking the city to create an alternate route for the industrial trucks. A second traffic study and a heated debate at the Planning and Zoning Commission in January 2013 led the city, New Belgium and community groups to a possible solution: a massive infrastructure project already years in the works, known as RADTIP.
River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project. A multiyear, multimillion dollar project to rebuild and realign Riverside Drive and Lyman St into a centerpiece pedestrian- and bike-friendly boulevard lined with greenways and parks.
The City has already spent millions of dollars on the initial stages of design for RADTIP, mostly funds from a gigantic federal grant called Tiger 2. Now in process, the final design of the road and a second infusion of federal grant money, called Tiger 6, (combined with matching local funds) could be made to include changes that would allow full-size tractor trailers to use Riverside Drive to reach the interstate, either turning north and then entering the highway at Hill St. by Hillcrest or by turning south and following Lyman St to Amboy by Carrier Park, partially or totally avoiding Haywood Road. Out of negotiations with New Belgium and community groups, the City of Asheville emerged with a resolution setting the community on the path to a Riverside Drive truck route (through the RADTIP project) and addressing other safety and traffic issues in the area around the brewery. Passed by Asheville’s City Council in February 2013, the five points of the resolution were:
- The designers of RADTIP were directed to study the two problem areas for trucks first: the turn at Craven St. bridge and the too-low Norfolk Southern trestle.
- If funding for RADTIP was obtained, those would be the first parts of the project to be built.
- With a $50,000 donation from New Belgium, the City of Asheville would make safety improvements to the section Haywood Road potentially impacted by brewery traffic, adding bike lanes and wide sidewalks to the uphill section of the road.
- The City of Asheville would improve Hanover St. from the interstate exit to Haywood Road.
- There would be an annual review of traffic impacts by City Council.
Where things stand
The plan has faced several hurdles.
1. Are the improvements to Craven Street bridge and the road under the railway trestle technically possible?
Yes. The RADTIP design firm, CDM Smith, presented a set of options to city planners in August 2014. They showed lowering the roadway under the trestle (the particulars of railway politics in general and that bridge in particular mean you can’t raise the bridge; you have to lower the road) and either widening the Craven Street bridge or adding a second bridge alongside the existing one, with extra lanes and a bike lane. This would allow long trucks to turn off Craven Street onto Riverside in either direction, and north-turning trucks to drive under the railroad bridge.
2. Are the improvements cost-effective?
Unknown. The total cost estimate for RADTIP of $25 million is a ballpark figure. The design may come to cost much more money than the city planned on, or the truck improvements may turn out to be a huge portion of the total cost. We expect to know more precise cost estimates by November. What we have going for us is that the improvements also make Craven Street bridge safer for walkers and bikers — a city priority — and the whole set of improvements will make the River Arts District more attractive to other businesses, which might otherwise be turned off by lack of truck access. The city may also have an interest in re-grading the road at the railroad bridge to deal with the frequent flooding that occurs there.
3. Is there money for any of this?
Yes. On September 9th, Mayor Esther Manheimer announced that the city has been awarded $14.6 million of grant funding earmarked for this project. With matching funds from city, county and state, and other expected grants and loans, the city expects to be able to fund RADTIP through construction.
4. Will DOT go for it?
Unknown. Though Craven St. is not maintained by the NC Dept. of Transportation, its bridge is. Any new bridge or change to the bridge requires plans to go through notorious Raleigh bureaucracy. In casual conversations, DOT representatives have said they’ll consider an “encroachment”, the process of the city taking on all or part of the bridge(s)’ maintenance.
5. Is another City Council resolution necessary?
Probably yes. The first set of city council resolutions required the designer to look at truck improvements, and also to build the north section of the project with the first funds available, but did not require the truck improvements to be built. It couldn’t, since the cost and technical feasibility of those improvements wasn’t known at the time. The city could potentially honor its resolution by completing the feasibility study and then building the north section without the improvements. Once costs are known precisely, city council can direct the project to be built including the truck improvements.
6. Will it happen in time?
Probably no. New Belgium is set to begin shipping beer winter 2015. RADTIP construction is tentatively scheduled to finish in 2019. That means unless the schedule is dramatically sped up, the first four years of beer production will happen before there’s a truck route on Riverside.
7. Is there a backup plan?
Yes, of sorts. A certain quantity of delivery trucks will be owned by New Belgium for delivery of finished beer to the company’s distribution center in Enka. In some conversations, that number has been pegged as high as 70%. The rest will be contractors and general suppliers bringing cardboard, glass, hops, etc., to the plant. New Belgium has raised the possibility of leasing a type of truck either lower than regular semis or lower-and-shorter than regular semis. In other words, if one or both of the pinch points on Riverside Drive couldn’t be fixed, New Belgium could potentially lease a type of truck that could still navigate the road, potentially avoiding Haywood with its portion of the trucks, although not entirely, and at some extra cost to the company. A plausible scenario might see two-thirds of trucks (likely those owned by New Belgium) either driving north or south on Riverside Drive, with the other third using Haywood Road.
A planned public campaign this fall will push for a commitment and city council resolution to include the truck route in RADTIP plans and accelerate the construction schedule as much as possible. At the same time, we will ask New Belgium to consider ways, such as the smaller trucks, that it can reduce the impact of its trucks on Haywood Road during RADTIP construction. You can help by participating in EWANA meetings, writing and talking to your city council representatives, and highlighting the importance of safety on Haywood Road — the importance of walkability and bikeability and the appeal of our neighborhood Main Street. We will make updates on our progress and actions to take. Sign up for them on EWANA’s Facebook page, Nextdoor.com, or our email list.