Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Officials have modified the I-26 construction plan to include a new exit that will service the gargantuan Pratt & Whitney plant and whatever other industries move into the corporate park that Biltmore Farms is creating. I’m fairly certain that the road from that exit (Olmsted Way, apparently) will become the most direct and quickest way for me and lots of other people to access the North Carolina Arboretum and the Blue Ridge Parkway. My questions: Are Biltmore Farms and the NCDOT really going to allow the public to use the new road to get to the Arboretum and Parkway? The new exit will be very close to the French Broad River and an existing trail running parallel to it. Is the new road being designed to incorporate foot and bike traffic so that a future greenway connection to the river trail would let all of us hike and bike to the Arboretum and Parkway?
My answer: I still marvel at how quickly this bridge got built every time I drive over the crumbling Amboy Road Bridge in the River Arts District and pray that creaky hunk of concrete doesn’t tumble into the French Broad. I’m starting to think money does indeed talk.
Real answer: Generally speaking, there’s good news here for the general public.
The recently constructed East Frederick Law Olmsted Way connects N.C. 191 (Brevard Road) to the roundabout near the new Pratt & Whitney plant, and it is a public, state-maintained road, according to North Carolina Department of Transportation spokesperson David Uchiyama.
“The road will be extended from the roundabout east to the proposed I-26 interchange, Exit 35, and the entire road will be publicly accessible from Brevard Road and I-26,” Uchiyama said via email. “The extension of East Frederick Law Olmsted Way and the new interchange are expected to be complete in late 2025.”
The new interchange on I-26 will be near mile marker 35, located south of the French Broad River and north of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Buncombe County, according to the NCDOT’s website.
The existing portion of East Frederick Law Olmsted Way includes sidewalk on the north side from N.C. 191 to the roundabout.
“The proposed additional portion of East Frederick Law Olmsted Way will have sidewalks on the north side as well, extending to just west of the new interchange,” Uchiyama said. “The sidewalk will be in place to serve potential future development in the area.”
Here’s the bummer part for the greenway fan/reader:
“Currently, there are no plans to connect East Frederick Law Olmsted Way to any off-facility greenways or multi-use paths,” Uchiyama said.
This is an expensive project. Uchiyama said the current construction cost estimate for the interchange is $37.3 million, plus $12.9 million for the connecting road. That’s a grand total of $50.2 million.
Biltmore Farms, the development company that gifted Pratt & Whitney the 100-acre plant site for a dollar and owns the remaining property nearby, said the NCDOT manages this road project and related amenities.
“All DOT roadways are public, including any interstate or DOT road near Biltmore Farms properties or developments,” Jason Liburdi, director of marketing for Biltmore Farms, said via email. “We respect and value these roadways as essential connectors in our community.”
Question: I don’t remember a fall drought this bad in a long time. Why are we having it when we are supposedly in an El Nino weather pattern, which historically has usually meant rainy weather here in western North Carolina?
My answer: What we need here is a weather system called, “La Cerveza,” which just gets real drunk and then needs to spew moisture over much of North America.
Real answer: We can’t blame El Nino quite yet.
David Easterling, director of the National Climate Assessment Technical Support Unit, part of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, said El Nino essentially means there are unusually warm ocean waters off of equatorial South America (think Peru). This has the main impact on our weather during the colder months, November through March, and not so much in September and October.
“With an El Nino we often get an extended subtropical (Pacific) jet stream that brings wet weather to the Southwestern and Gulf of Mexico states, and the polar jet stream stays further north, resulting in warmer and dryer conditions for our area,” Easterling said via email. “However, those are average conditions, and no two El Ninos are exactly the same.”
As to what’s going on with this dry spell, Easterling said we’ve been “stuck in a pattern with strong high pressure and few frontal passages that can produce rain, which is typical for the Fall season in our area since October is the driest month, on average, for western North Carolina.”
“Furthermore, our weather pattern can flip to cool and wet very quickly, and I expect that will happen soon enough,” Easterling added.
Another factor is that we often will get hurricane remnants rising up from the Gulf of Mexico and producing significant rainfall in the fall, and that just hasn’t happened here this year.
Easterling also noted, drily I might add (awful pun intended), that we should see more snow this winter than last year because of the El Nino effect. You may recall we had no measurable snow last year.
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