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

Exposed rebar is visible in much of the concrete railings on the 72-year-old bridge. //Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

Question: I wonder what plans, if any, are in the works for the bridge on Amboy Road over the French Broad river at the intersection of Meadow Road. I go over this bridge almost every day. There are times the traffic backs up and we get stopped on the bridge. I have to say, the bridge starts to sway at times. Also, the road there is in desperate need of repair. Amboy and Meadow have been resurfaced recently. What about repairing or replacing the bridge? Concerned Traveler

My answer: If you’re looking for some real excitement, dear Traveler,  I suggest walking across the bridge on the two-foot wide “sidewalks” on each side of the roadway. Yes, this bridge moves. A lot. Couple this with the exposed rebar on much of the concrete rails, and you may want to wear your brown pants so you’re prepared for all possibilities.

The Amboy Road bridge over the French Broad River, completed in 1951, has numerous potholes and patches. The NCDOT says it is structurally sound and safe to drive on. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

Real answer: Relief is on the way, but it’s going to take years.

“The Amboy Road bridge will be replaced as part of a State Transportation Improvement Program project,” David Uchiyama, N.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson for Western North Carolina, said via email. “The project schedule currently includes right-of-way acquisition in 2025 and the start of construction in 2028.”

The new bridge will feature one lane in both directions, a center turn lane, and a sidewalk and bike lanes.

“The bridge will be built on a new location — a few feet to the south — so traffic may use the old bridge during construction,” Uchiyama said. “The old bridge, built in 1951, passed its most recent biannual inspection.”

The Amboy Road bridge does move when vehicles are crossing, especially heavier trucks, but the NCDOT says such movement is normal. The bridge is structurally sound, the DOT says.

The DOT does not allow traffic on unsafe bridges, Uchiyama added, noting DOT crews “routinely monitor the surface condition and will repair spots as necessary.”

As far as the bridge moving, that’s “completely normal,” Uchiyama said. 

“Bridges are designed and built to allow for movement, to prevent cracking and to allow for expansion and contraction from changing weather conditions,” he said.

Steel rebar reinforcement rods are visible in numerous places in the concrete of the Amboy Road bridge over the French Broad River. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

The NCDOT page titled, “Amboy & Meadow Roads Widening,” notes the overall project, which includes the new bridge over the French Broad River, has an estimated cost of $96 million. It states that planning and development are underway on the project, which will widen 2.6 miles of Amboy and Meadow roads in Asheville to a multi-lane roadway between I-240 and Biltmore Avenue.

Improvements include “upgrading the intersections as well as installing bicycle lanes and possibly sidewalks. A new raised median would improve traffic flow, and center-turn lanes would also be added where feasible.”

The DOT notes that all the major intersections involved are performing at an “F” level of service, the worst possible. That means a lot of stop and go traffic. 

So yes, improvements will be welcome. Just be patient.

Question: I just donated to AVL Watchdog because it’s the right thing to do. I’m curious about Asheville Watchdog’s origins. Reading the bios of the staff and board members – wow! How did we get such high-powered company to accompany your “dogged” journalism for truth and justice? Do some of these folks live in Asheville now? Does each have a personal story that brought them to Asheville Watchog? Pretty nice brain trust for our area, if yes.

My answer: I’m starting to think I need to add a Pulitzer Prize to my resumé so I fit in a little better around here. I’ve asked New York Congressman George Santos how to go about doing this, as all of his embellishments seem to be working out really well.

Real answer: This is an impressive crew, and that’s part of the reason I came over here – to glom on to their achievements!

And yes, the folks here are local residents.

Our acting Managing Editor, Peter Lewis, said first to thank the reader for the donation, as that helps keep our nonprofit journalism ship afloat over here. 

“And yes, all the volunteer Dogs other than board member Kay Murray (Noo Yawk)  live in Asheville or nearby,” Lewis, a Beaverdam resident, said via email.

He gave this rundown: Co-founders Bob Gremillion and Sally Kestin live in North Asheville, while political scribe Tom Fiedler lives in East Asheville, reporter Barbara Durr in the UNC Asheville area, John Maines in Hendersonville, photographer Starr Sariego in Kenilworth, Bill Robertson and Gail Meadows in downtown Asheville, Karen Knab (chief operating officer) in South Asheville, Jayne Hollerbaugh (marketing) in Grove Park-Sunset, David Feingold (strategic advisor) in North Asheville, and board member Trish Jones in North Asheville. 

“I first saw Asheville while riding a friend’s Harley through the mountains, back in the ‘Easy Rider’ days,” Lewis said. “Four decades later, my wife Kathryn and I drove through town on a vacation and it reminded us a lot of Austin, Texas, where we raised our kids back before Austin outgrew us.”

“College town. Great music. Good restaurants. Laid-back vibe. Lots of outdoor adventures to be had,” Lewis continued. “After visiting a few more times just to make sure it was as delightful as we remembered, we retired to Asheville just before the pandemic in February 2020. I showed up as a foundling on Bob’s and Sally’s doorstep.”

Lewis also offered an interesting side note: “Because of the pandemic, we met via Zoom for most of the first year; it was more than a year before all the Dogs met face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) in the real world.”

As the reader noted, you can find all of the Dogs’ bios on the Watchdog Team page, which tells us Lewis was a senior writer, editor, and columnist at the New York Times; managing editor of The Bay Citizen in San Francisco; senior editor Fortune magazine; and John S. Knight Fellow and Hearst Visiting Professional in Residence at Stanford University, where he taught journalism.

I’ll run through the other bylines you’ll see most often at Asheville Watchdog, but check out the page for the full details on everyone. It truly is an impressive crew.

Kestin was an investigative reporter at The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, The Tampa Tribune and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and recipient of numerous national journalism awards, including the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. She was a 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting.

Durr worked as a correspondent for The Financial Times of London and was an editor for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” She was also a senior manager in two international nonprofits, CARE and Oxfam.

Fiedler came to the Watchdog with this background: Dean emeritus and journalism professor at Boston University’s College of Communication; former executive editor of The Miami Herald; trustee of TheConversation.com/us; co-founder New England Center for Investigative Reporting; former president New England First Amendment Coalition; and award-winning investigative and political reporter during three decades at The Miami Herald, including a shared Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

Our photographer/videographer, Starr Sariego, told me she moved here in October 2020 and was connected to Tom Fiedler by a Miami friend who had worked with him at the Miami Herald.

“My move was pandemic-inspired and wholly impulsive but probably the best thing I could have done,” Sariego said via email. “I’m an Aries…we run on impulse!”

Personally, I answered readers’ questions at the Citizen Times for 27 years and once won an award for most concise story written after gorging oneself on the newspaper’s free Thanksgiving luncheon spread.

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or (828)-337-0941.

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