The U.S. 19-23-70 freeway leading north from Interstate 240 and Patton Avenue in Downtown Asheville remains below interstate standards. The Bowen / Smoky Park Bridge across the river is equally substandard, with no shoulders and heavy traffic. As such, the 1960s-built freeway north to Woodfin is designated as Future I-26 until upgrades are made along the corridor. A portion of the route will be bypassed by the I-26 Connector, a new alignment and bridge across the French Broad River planned to meet 2025 forecast traffic counts.5
The I-26 Connector includes upgrading 4.3 miles of Interstates 26/240, from the junction with I-40 northeast to the Patton Avenue interchange. North from there, a new 2.6 mile alignment will be constructed taking Interstate 26 across the French Broad River to U.S. 19-23-70 south of Broadway Street. Included in the project are interchange improvements for exits to Interstate 40, North Carolina 191, Amboy Road, U.S. 19-23 Business/Haywood Road, and Patten Avenue. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the I-26 Connector was released in October 2015. Work on the estimated $600-800 million project will start in 2021.1
In May 2016, NCDOT finalized a route for Section B of the I-26 Connector, clearing a major hurdle in relation to the overall project. Dubbed Alternative 4B, and heavily favored by local residents3, this selection for the I-26 & 240 corridors separates local and through traffic.4 The new configuration will take I-240 traffic from Downtown along U.S. 19 & 23 north before turning west near Hill Street to cross over the French Broad River. New spans will cross the river in a sweeping arc, returning the I-240 mainline in the vicinity of Patton Avenue. The existing Bowen Bridge will be refitted to provide additional space for bicyclists and pedestrians and repurposed for local traffic between Asheville and West Asheville. The present exchange between the I-240 and U.S. 19 & 23 freeways near the east end of the Bowen Bridge will be also be modernized as part of the project. As a result of selecting this alternative, the I-26 & 240 concurrency will be extended by up to 0.7 miles. Current estimated costs for Section B are $332 million, and construction should begin in late 2023 or 20244 and run for at least three years.3
Interstate 240 opened in stages between the early 1960s and 1980. AASHTO approved the establishment of the route on July 13, 1976.
The first portion to open was the original U.S. 70 bypass freeway north of Downtown. Another three miles of Interstate 240, between Interstate 40 and Patton Avenue, were completed by 1970. This portion was designated as North Carolina 191. Completion in late 1980 involved the eastern portion of freeway across Beaucatcher Mountain.2