Widening of I-26 will take three more years — along 18 miles from AVL to HVL, from two to four lanes each way.
Widening 17 pivotal miles of Interstate 26 from the I-40/240 interchange in Asheville to U.S. 64 in Hendersonville is expected to take three more years, to finish a five-year, $400 million project to streamline and ease traffic on I-26’s busiest local corridor.
Meantime, motorists are seeing much work beside existing lanes as the upcoming new lanes take shape. Interstate lanes are being doubled from two to four in each direction, and to eight overall.
There were traffic slowdowns months ago in the spring and summer with a lane closed by a rolling roadblock. This was to give workers room to safely work along or right beside existing lanes to steer traffic or prepare for work on new lanes. These closures were typically in the evenings starting at 7 pm when traffic is less.
But that is becoming more of a hindrance of the past. The goal is being met to keep open at least two lanes of traffic in each direction during daytime hours. Of course, as usual, there are occasional delays along I-26 due to traffic accidents.
Total construction is budgeted at $392 million, with an additional $6 million spent to acquire rights of way, according to N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) data.
A $263 million segment extends 7.8 miles from the I-40/240 interchange with I-26 to N.C. 280 (exit 40) by the Asheville Regional Airport. Current westbound and eastbound lanes are separated enough so that new lanes can go between them.
In contrast, new lanes are going in mainly south of the project’s other segment, since existing lanes are close together. That stretch is 9.1 miles, from N.C. 280 to U.S. 64/Four Seasons Boulevard (exits 49 A, B) at the northern edge of Hendersonville. NCDOT Asst. Construction Engineer Mitchell Bishop supplied such data.
Upgrades and replacements
Also, he noted, four bridges are being replaced — including ones over the Blue Ridge Parkway and also the French Broad River.
Other major improvements include repaving existing I-26 lanes, strengthening several retaining walls, and upgrading all drainage systems. Repaving of I-26 was done merely twice — most recently ten years ago, according to NCDOT.
Construction began in the early fall of 2019 and is projected to last until April of 2024. The project’s environmental assessment was done 20 years ago.
Widening I-26 has been debated for decades. Opponents were concerned more people would use the interstate, adding to traffic. But supporters figure most of the traffic was going to be there anyway, and twice as many lanes make travel smoother and safer. There is more room for passing, and to change lanes to dodge a sudden hazard such as a motorist blindly moving into one’s vehicle.
Fluor-United Joint Venture of Greenville, SC won the construction contract and brought in United Infrastructure Group to help. Plans were developed for traffic control, and to deal with winter storms.
A separate project is an I-26 Connector. That $1 billion project’s design is planned to start in 2025, with construction to start in 2030 or later according to NCDOT. The seven-mile stretch upgrades and widens I-240 from I-40 to Patton Avenue. Then as a new freeway, it will cross the French Broad River and link to U.S. 19-23-70 (‘Future I-26’ heading north of Asheville) just south of Broadway.