Dear Mr. Joyner,
As a resident and homeowner in the Burton Street Community for 9 years, I am writing you to address the serious and very dangerous issue of the I-26 connector project. There is nothing about this proposed project that is a connector. This road is a divider of the community, most strongly impacting the people who are already struggling the most in Asheville. Asheville prides itself on diversity and community, but these values have not shown through at all in the planning of this roadway.
To start, I am completely unconvinced that this massive $800 million project is even necessary. Asheville is not a large city and it simply does not have the capacity to be one. Issues with traffic are minor compared to large cities. I think many of the problems on the Jeff Bowen bridge are a result of very confusing signage. Additionally, Asheville lacks a reliable, efficient public transportation system for its residents. The buses here are late, infrequent, and do not reach many of the places residents need to go. This has resulted in more people having the need to own cars. We manage our household with one vehicle, but it is a struggle and requires careful planning and long bus rides for my husband.
The primary problem with the Department of Transportation’s plan (including ALL of the alternatives presented thus far) is the people it hurts. First of all, the information the DOT provided has been done so poorly and unclearly. I have spent hours and hours of my own time scouring the internet for information on this project. Unlike many other residents, I have the time, education and computer/internet access and savvy to devote to this endeavor. If you don’t educate people about what you’re actually proposing, it is quite unfair to expect to receive the true comments of the residents.
I think you should take the time to walk around my neighborhood. I would be happy to accompany you and we could speak to the residents ourselves. We could tell them the number of houses the DOT plans to take. We could tell them the real numbers about how many MORE of those houses are going to be coming from minorities and low-income people proportionate to the population. Then we could listen.
In your 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, you openly admit that this project is in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in regards to its environmental justice provisions which prohibit federal funds from being spent on projects that have a disparate impact on communities of color. The report suggests further discussions with my community and then promptly disregards the issue. This IS the issue. And this is the issue that I will personally make known to as many other Asheville residents as possible as this project moves forward.
This is about yet another careless decision that directly harms poor and nonwhite people. The Burton Street Community has already been hurt several times before by highway construction. The message you are sending to the people who live here is that they don’t matter. They aren’t important. Their social and economic well-being is once again being systematically ignored in the false name of progress. This project isn’t progress. This project is a regression to discriminatory practices with far-reaching cultural, social, and economic consequences.
It seems that no matter how much the community pushes back on this project, you keep forging ahead. The only supporters I’ve seen of this project are the people who are either ill-informed, ignorant or those who put profits and “convenience” above people. There is an awful lot of profit to be made off of this project for the “right” people. I won’t stand by the wayside to watch my community be bulldozed and disparaged once again.
I hope that you do get a chance to personally read this, Mr. Joyner. I hope that your Environmental Impact Statement is a clear enough sign that this project is an Environmental Injustice. I hope you make the choice to postpone the project and put some of those dollars into road improvements, public transportation and clearly marked roads. Perhaps you could even use some of the funds to directly invest in the Burton Street Community and improve its economic growth! Go back to the drawing board. There has to be a solution that is less invasive, if you choose to look for it.
Please consider this while you’re spending the holidays with your family in your home: Imagine if someone took that home away from you. Imagine if someone took your neighbors away from you and divided your community. Imagine if your town, your state, and your federal government told you your value was less than the everyone else’s with their actions. You will likely never know what this situation feels like. You are fortunate for that. But please have some empathy for those who are not so lucky. Recognize the very stained history of this town and this country that we live in as we try to move forward to bring people together. Do your duty as a public official to act in the interest of the community. This is about more than a road. This is about racial justice, economic fairness, and human decency.
This letter was written to Drew Joyner of the the North Carolina Department of Transportation to express my thoughts on the proposed I-26 Connector Project for Asheville. I encourage you to share your with him by clicking the link below. You can write your own letter, use mine, or use the one provided by Mountain True. Thanks for your help!