Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Recent articles in the press related to the ongoing I-26 expansion in Buncombe and Henderson county have stated 2025 completion dates without any pushback from journalists about this unexplained delay. Current DOT website plans and all prior press have cited spring 2024 as the completion date. Have they missed their target by a year?
My answer: I think I speak for all of Western North Carolina when I say, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
Real answer: Sadly, it’s a yes. Well, at least in part.
North Carolina Department of Transportation spokesperson David Uchiyama first reminded us that this project is split into two parts, one project in Henderson County and the other in Buncombe.
“They have different contractors, and the two projects have different designs, different components and different complexities,” Uchiyama said. “Both projects have experienced various delays from material supply-chain issues and weather impacts.”
Also as a reminder, the project started in 1886.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The $534 million project started in October 2019, and it was to be completed in 2024.
The DOT’s webpage for I-26 widening notes the Henderson County project will widen 9.1 miles of I-26 from U.S. 64 in Hendersonville to Airport Road at the Buncombe/Henderson county line, at a cost of $271 million. In Buncombe County, the $263 million project will widen 7.8 miles of roadway from Airport Road west to the I-40/240 interchange.
“On the Henderson County side, the timeline is tracking for an on-time completion in the fall of 2024, with some punch-list items remaining for the warm weather in the spring of 2025,” Uchiyama said. “On the Buncombe County side, a whole new project has been introduced within the project limits.”
This is the “Exit 35 Project,” a new exit from I-26 to Frederick Law Olmsted Way, which leads to Brevard Road. “It will reduce congestion on both I-26 and Brevard Road,” Uchiyama said.
This is the exit that will also lead to the new $650 million Pratt & Whitney plant in southern Buncombe County. The 1.2-million square-foot facility will make jet engine fan blades and eventually employ 800 people.
The I-26 project, which will give us eight lanes of immaculate new concrete, is a honker. It includes multiple new bridges, including a new span where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses I-26. The DOT also demolished existing rest areas in Henderson County and built new ones.
But let’s get back to the new exit.
“As the engineers design construction plans for Exit 35, we anticipate that coordinating construction between the two projects will push completion of I-26 widening in Buncombe County into 2025,” Uchiyama said. “Once plans are complete, we will have a better estimate for completion dates of both Buncombe County projects.”
In a phone interview, Uchiyama said the project has “no major cost overruns at this point.”
“There have been a variety of supplemental agreements on both contracts, as is the case with most construction projects, especially those of this size,” he said.
Uchiyama said the DOT has not issued a press release with the later completion dates.
So, 2025 it is. I plan to wrap my car in bubble wrap for the duration. Hey, that Jersey barrier ping pong is no fun.
Question: In light of the Watchdog’s recent piece about problems/challenges at UNCA, I’m hoping that Answer Man can find out what is happening with a search for a new chancellor at UNCA. When it was announced last fall that Nancy Cable would step down, and Kimberly Van Noort would be interim chancellor, it was stated that a “national search” would take place. But so far, bupkis about the search. Is it going on? Who is on the search committee? Who is chairing it? What is the timetable for bringing in a new chancellor? And will Kimberly Van Noort herself be a candidate?
My answer: It’s amazing how chatty everyone was about this inquiry. I mean I just could not get folks to stop talking.
Real answer: Yeah, no one wanted to go into great detail here.
UNC Asheville spokesperson Michael Strysick told me, “The chancellor’s search occurs at the system level,” and then recommended I reach out to them.
Jane Stancill, vice president for communications with the University of North Carolina System, responded with, “There will be a national search for the next chancellor, commencing within the next few months. Thanks for reaching out.”
I pressed on the details, and if Van Noort would be a candidate.
“The search committee has not been named yet,” Stancill said. “The timetable for the new chancellor will depend on the search itself and the future chancellor-elect’s timeline.”
Regarding candidates, Stancill said, “As the search is not yet underway, there are no candidates at this point. Once the search is underway, names of candidates will be confidential under state law.”
So, it looks like this search will be about as transparent as a welder’s mask.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941.