Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I thought the Merrimon Avenue road diet was supposed to be finished now, but it looks like they’re still doing some work on it. When will it be finished? And why did it take so long?
My answer: This project has generated about the most passion Asheville has seen since the I-26 Connector was first shelved in 1896.
Real answer: Before getting to the answer, I’m happy to report that a few weeks ago I spotted my first cyclist using the bike lane on Merrimon Avenue. An older gent heading south near the old Stein Mart, the cyclist probably thought I was nuts for excitedly hopping out of my car to snap his picture and wave, but hey, this was a big moment for Asheville!
The project, which narrowed a section of Merrimon from four to three lanes, has generated a lot of heat, with opponents decrying the move as a waste of time that created slower traffic, and supporters saying it creates a much safer roadway for all travelers while slowing traffic only slightly.
The project work dates to early October, when, at the city’s request, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, converted Merrimon Avenue from Midland Road to W.T. Weaver Boulevard from two traffic lanes in each direction to a three-lane configuration. The road has one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane, with bike lanes on the outside of each travel lane.
Readers have been asking for updates since the work started. As is commonplace, the DOT had to take a paving hiatus during the cold winter months.
But now the DOT has good news.
“The contractor finished all paving on the Merrimon corridor June 13,” Jody Lawrence, assistant construction engineer for the DOT’s Asheville office, said via email. “So there is new pavement on U.S. 25 (Merrimon/Broadway/Biltmore) from Beaverdam to South Charlotte.”
More work does remain, though, and Lawrence said contract crews “will concentrate on Merrimon for the next few months.
“They will continue replacing curb ramps and updating signals before a striping crew places permanent lines on the entire stretch,” Lawrence said. “The existing safety barrels will remain to provide safety for the crews and traveling public until final completion.”
Beyond the winter paving break, Lawrence said, “Weather and material shortages have extended the work beyond the anticipated completion date earlier this spring.”
Question: On Meadow Road across the street and a little bit to the west of the Habitat ReStore is an old drainage pipe stuck in a crumbling brick wall. Whenever it rains, it pours water directly onto Meadow Road, but it runs with water all the time. I think a creek used to be there, but basically everything coming off of the South Slope drains into this pipe and then spills onto Meadow. Some days that thing is just gushing. The city has put cones around it and the road at times because it’s gushing so hard. This seems like an unsafe arrangement, especially in the winter when it could freeze. Is this city aware of this problem? Is the city going to fix it? Maybe put the pipe underground so it drains into the Swannanoa River? I know it would have to go under the railroad tracks, but are there any solutions in sight?
My answer: If this involves closing any sizable valves in a timely fashion, that might be problematic.
Real answer: The North Carolina Department of Transportation maintains Meadow Road and the right-of-way property on either side of the roadway, but the pipe drains a pretty large swath of land in the city.
Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller said teams from NCDOT and the city visited the site in February.
“NCDOT carried out some roadside maintenance that allowed better access to the water source in question, which appears to be an intermittently blocked drain,” Miller said. “Further investigation by the City of Asheville water resources team, including a sweep of the area by our leak specialist carried out over February 8 and 9, determined there were no leaks in the City of Asheville water resources infrastructure in the area.”
Miller said further testing and comparison of water samples verified it’s not City of Asheville Water.
Further, Miller said the DOT “will need to make the determination if this area can be piped to drain under the road.
“The storm drain system upstream is a complex system with multiple property owners,” Miller said, adding that the city does not maintain privately owned stormwater infrastructure. “There is a small portion of this system on the city right-of-way that staff will need to look into further.”
Complicating matters even more, Miller said a portion of the drainage system “appears to convey a live stream or spring, which would explain the constant water flow. The city needs to investigate further where this flow starts.”
Paul Roberts, Buncombe County maintenance engineer with the DOT, acknowledged that, “Large amounts of standing or running water can create safety issues for drivers.
“So NCDOT maintenance crews took action,” Roberts said. “On June 11, our forces and the City of Asheville worked together with specialized equipment to clean the box and direct the water to drain properly through NCDOT pipes under Meadow Road.”
As Miller noted, this is a complicated drainage issue.
“This issue stems from a private pipe from around Asheville High School that drains to maintenance limits on NCDOT property where a box becomes clogged from time to time from debris,” Roberts said. “We previously addressed this issue early in the year with a ditching operation and by cleaning the drop inlet.”
The most recent work should address the drainage issue at this location, he added.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-337-0941.