The timing of traffic lights on Hendersonville Road has been an issue that has vexxed motorists for years. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Why are the lights on Hendersonville Road in South Asheville and Arden not timed? It seems that regardless of time of day, it is impossible to go more than a few hundred feet without being stopped at a red light. Considering the amount of traffic on Hendersonville Road, a lot of time, gas, and emissions would be collectively saved by timing the lights such that drivers going the speed limit would encounter green lights through a significant number of intersections.

My answer: This question has now officially come in to me 1,000 times. Please, congratulate yourself, South Asheville.

Real answer: Seriously, this issue has come and gone, and come and gone, and then resurfaced, dozens of times in the 20-plus years I’ve been writing this column. Clearly, the NCDOT has a little trouble keeping a handle on synchronization of all these lights.

This time, a little relief is coming, though.

“We reviewed the Hendersonville Road corridor based on the reader’s comments and found several pavement sensors that were not working properly,” Anna Henderson, traffic engineer with the NCDOT’s Asheville office, told me via email Aug. 9. “Repairs are underway, and the traffic signals will be functioning optimally again within the next several weeks.”

As far as how these lights typically operate, Henderson addressed that, too.

“During normal operation, the traffic signals are programmed to favor northbound direction of travel during the morning commute and to favor southbound direction of travel during afternoon commute, while still accommodating traffic to and from the side streets,” Henderson said.

Traffic, as the reader mentioned, is heavy on Hendersonville Road (U.S. 25). The most recent available NCDOT traffic count data show the road carrying 29,000 vehicles a day near Long Shoals Road, and 28,000 per day near Lake Julian and near Mills Gap Road.

Question: Driving around our area, I see various road construction projects taking place. In some cases roads are being paved with concrete, and in some cases the roads are being paved with asphalt. Considering that we are attempting to address global warming and climate change issues, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these paving materials? What is the life expectancy of each surface material, and can the material be recycled? What are the upfront costs of paving with each of these materials? Is the DOT or the city trying to use more concrete? And does either one plan to use any type of lighter colored paint or coating material on asphalt to make it more reflective and thereby cooler?

The NCDOT uses concrete on major interstate projects, such as the ongoing I-26 widening. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

My answer: I learned a valuable lesson long ago about concrete: Never try to patch the bottom of your driveway with concrete on a summer afternoon, even if no storms are in the forecast. Because it will rain and wash out all of the “cream,” leaving you with a very neat pile of gravel for a patch. Of course I just covered it with more concrete the next day and turned it into a speed bump. Yes, my wife reminds me about once a week that it’s still there.

Real answer: Jody Lawrence, assistant construction engineer with the NCDOT’s Asheville office, took this one on.

“Asphalt pavement costs about 40 percent less to install than concrete and is easier to maintain and repair,” Lawrence said. “Asphalt pavement is considered a flexible pavement resulting in a smoother ride with less road noise. Asphalt pavement has a usable service life of 10-15 years before maintenance is required.”

Of course it comes with some downsides, including the shortened service life, and “it is prone to rutting and even wash-boarding at intersections that have a lot of heavy truck traffic.

“It also absorbs a lot of heat that it radiates back into the atmosphere. The heat-sink effect can be both good and bad. The pro is that it can radiate this heat and aid in melting snow and ice quicker, but the con is that it can also increase ambient air temperatures in areas during the summer months.”

Concrete is less smooth to ride on, but it lasts longer.

“The benefits of concrete pavement are that it does have a longer service life of 30-plus years, often before needing some type of maintenance, and it is not prone to rutting and wash boarding,” Lawrence said. “It absorbs heat like asphalt but to a much lesser rate.”

But concrete is more expensive to put down, and to repair.

“Some of the down sides to concrete, other than it is costing on average 40 percent more to initially construct, is that it is much harder to create a smooth ride, often requiring it to be diamond ground in order to meet the rideability tolerances required for NCDOT roadways,” Lawrence said. “Concrete is also much more expensive to repair than asphalt pavement, often resulting in longer impacts to the traveling public because concrete can’t be driven on immediately after being placed.”

Also, concrete creates more road noise because of its rigid nature, and that’s not conducive for use in heavily populated areas.

While concrete lasts decades longer than asphalt, it’s also difficult to repair and about 40 percent more expensive to install. The city of Asheville opts for asphalt, as shown here at Hiawassee and Rankin, as it’s considerably cheaper and easier to fix. //AVL Watchdog photos by John Boyle.

The city of Asheville, which has its own Public Works Department/Street Division, said through city spokesperson Kim Miller that, “asphalt versus concrete is a long-running debate.”

“Both materials have decided advantages and disadvantages,” Miller said via email. “Asphalt is decidedly cheaper on the front end versus concrete.”

Don’t look for much concrete in use in the city.

It is easier and more effective to simply cut out a defective area of asphalt than of concrete,” Miller said. 

On the recycling front, Miller said over the last 20-plus years, recycled asphalt has become very prevalent. 

“All of the asphalt that the city uses contains up to 30% recycled material, versus all new raw materials,” Miller said. “Old concrete can be reused for things such as fill material. This can take considerable effort to crush. Concrete is typically used in very high traffic count roads such as the current I-26 project.”

Regarding painting or coloring of asphalt, Miller said, “City staff do not have definitive plans for these types of coatings. We are familiar with these and are always open to how we can improve our communities.”

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to

4 replies on “Answer Man: South Asheville traffic lights getting fixed? What’s better, concrete or asphalt?”

  1. The new stretch of concrete between the BRP and Airport (or beyond, I’m not sure since my commute has me getting off there) that just opened this week on I-26 East is ROUGH. I assume that when they finalize that side of the road to just carry 26 West it’ll be smoother?

  2. Once again ncdot only catering to motorist. I commute by bike, many times with no cars coming I have to stop and run a red light because weight sensors won’t pick up bikes. Both of those roads in those sections were supposed to be complete streets back in 01.

    1. As a motorcycle rider for 50 years, I’ve lived with that problem for 50 years too.. Even though my relatively light current motorcycle weighs 300 lbs I recently encountered a light it would not trip at an intersection with a VERY busy 4-lane highway.. After sitting through 1 cycle, I moved by bike up over the white line but the car behind me failed to move up and trip the light. So I had to put the stand down, get off the bike, and walk back to the lady behind me and ask her to please move up and trip the light.. This being South Carolina, she rolled down her window as I approached on foot and instead of calling 911 or running me over, she thanked me and pulled up when I explained the problem and tripped the light. In SC the law says that after 2 minutes (I think) you can look both ways and proceed if safe when this happens. (I dont think it is weight that triggers the sensors. I think it is the mass of moving ferro-magnetic material (steel). )

  3. The key phrase in the question about timing of signals on Hendersonville Road were the words “going the speed limit.” When has that ever happened?

    Also, a chuckle for a guy named Henderson talking about Henderson-ville Road — seems like he should receive a royalty for each time it is mentioned.

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