The Overlook with Matt Peiken

This Land is My Land | Eminent Domain and the DOT

December 04, 2023 Matt Peiken Episode 113
This Land is My Land | Eminent Domain and the DOT
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
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The Overlook with Matt Peiken
This Land is My Land | Eminent Domain and the DOT
Dec 04, 2023 Episode 113
Matt Peiken

One of Asheville’s iconic concert venues will vanish in the coming years—not because of poor business, but because of eminent domain. Salvage Station on Riverside Drive is on the map of businesses that will be forced to sell and give way to the I-26 Connector. A number of homes are also on the map for clearance.

Nathan Moneyham, a division construction engineer based in Asheville for the NC Department of Transportation, talks about eminent domain and how today’s DOT works with affected communities and steers away from the practices and policies of yesteryear, which particularly eviscerated communities of color.

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Show Notes Transcript

One of Asheville’s iconic concert venues will vanish in the coming years—not because of poor business, but because of eminent domain. Salvage Station on Riverside Drive is on the map of businesses that will be forced to sell and give way to the I-26 Connector. A number of homes are also on the map for clearance.

Nathan Moneyham, a division construction engineer based in Asheville for the NC Department of Transportation, talks about eminent domain and how today’s DOT works with affected communities and steers away from the practices and policies of yesteryear, which particularly eviscerated communities of color.

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Nathan Moneyham: My name is Nathan Moneyham. I'm the Division Construction Engineer for Division 13. The NCDOT is broke up into 14 divisions. Division 13 is headquarters here in Asheville, and it's seven counties. Burke, Rutherford, McDowell, Mitchell, Madison, Yancey. 

That's the process we go through on every job on this project. It's much larger scale, obviously. But it always starts with some sort of transportation need. And that's sometimes brought from here at DOT or the MPO or local officials and once a project really is an idea and it goes through the process of competing for funding and becomes funded, that's when we really reach out to a community through public involvement.

Whether it's a smaller bridge project or even something of this scale, we go through that process. And what it is a balance of what are the needs and the, from a standpoint of congestion, safety what are the standards of roadway design that we have to adhere to? And balancing that with what the community ultimately prioritizes and wants.

Matt Peiken: I can imagine those things don't often marry up very seamlessly. They don't. Because you're engineers, you know road projects. You know how to efficiently make something happen. And, whether it's materials, direction, angles. Everything that goes into a technical level and the things you're talking about are my term here, soft elements, emotional concerns, history, things that, that you can't put into a blueprint.

So tell me about the challenges and how DOT marries up the engineering efficiencies and best practices that you guys know on a technical level with some of these soft concerns that might not come into perfect alignment with how things from a technical standpoint should 

Nathan Moneyham: run. I think the way that we do that mainly is communication with folks, especially through that process of public involvement, engaging the community and all the conversations that have been had.

In years past that led us to here is a balance of folks at D O T that predate me and myself explaining those requirements and needs to folks so that they understand ultimately what the goal is from a traffic operation standpoint and then them telling us what their concerns of priority are. And then working with them through that process to find a balance. 

Matt Peiken: So best of your knowledge, the project dates well before you got on board and it's been 11 years since you've been at D. O. T. And it's still going and you're just now getting to what you called to the let portion of the project.

Why has this taken so long and I'm not saying it shouldn't have, but inform audiences about, if the DOT knew this a quarter century ago, this was going to happen. What kind of elements come into play that extend the life of a project and keep it? going for decades. 

Nathan Moneyham: This is probably a special case to I mean, as large as this project is.

And I would say there's probably two main factors to that. One is the community engagement and the response that was received at some of those early, public hearings and the input from community was so strong. To look for solutions to that took some time. 

Matt Peiken: Can you talk about specifically things that did come up at these public hearings that have become steering points for the project that are like almost non negotiable that they came up and that lengthened your process? 

Nathan Moneyham: One is the typical section. That's always been a point that's typical section. Just explain that. So we use the typical section that basically just refers to the final cross section of the road. How many lanes? The width. And from our standpoint that directly goes into the traffic projection because we design roads to last well past construction.

So we're designing it to projected traffic volumes well into the future. So balancing that with a desire from the community to minimize the footprint as much as possible. So that's been probably one of the biggest is to try and minimize the footprint. Also to, to work through the design process, to make it as inconspicuous as possible.

From a standpoint of view shed from those things there's a lot of work in coordination that's went on with the Aesthetics committee, which was put in place by the city of Asheville. We worked with them On things that they want to see in the project all that really goes into Kind of the guardrails that we're using to set the final design the other big thing with this project that's really added to the schedule has been funding.

And this project is of a larger scale than anything that's ever been let in Western North Carolina and really the state of North Carolina. 

Matt Peiken: Can you talk specifically about budgeting? I imagine when this came up, 20 plus years ago, Costs have gone up exponentially. That had to be factored in.

I'm sure at some point D. O. T. knows how long projects tend to take that gets into budgeting. Has this gone longer and has the budget just because of rising costs gone beyond what was budgeted and how has that affected this project? I 

Nathan Moneyham: think there's effects on the schedule with that from a standpoint of through the development process of this Project we're doing regular estimates and updating those and it's no question. Just like everything else, costs are rising, materials. 

Matt Peiken: So because of that though Does that threaten any element of the project or does it this is going to happen? It's just going to take longer to raise the money or what is the impact of these rising costs? Beyond just pure economics years ago.

Nathan Moneyham: It was scheduled impacts, which is just comes to we've got to fit that into when we program and we're looking at not just this project But all the other projects and where that falls so that definitely played an effect kind of past that point now to the point that We know We have good estimates on what it's going to cost from the past couple years and it's accounting for in the budget, so Schedule impact is the main one.

The other thing is from a standpoint of just as project costs rise it affects really projects in this area as a whole. So the money we're spending on this project, if it had not been spent here would have been spent somewhere else. 

Matt Peiken: Can you give us a figure and how much money this is right now at this point?

Nathan Moneyham: Currently, 1. 2 billion. 

Matt Peiken: Wow. What was originally budgeted? 

Nathan Moneyham: That's hard to say, and I don't know the exact number but we could do some digging. 

Matt Peiken: Would this be double? Or is it hard to even put a guesstimate on it?

Nathan Moneyham: It's hard to put a guess on that just because the history of the project is so long. That's information we can find out though. Oh, when 

Matt Peiken: you're talking about public involvement, one of the things that initially brought me here is right away. And I'm wondering how public involvement and public input affected right of way and actual. Placement of where the I 26 connector is going. Can you speak to that at all?

Nathan Moneyham: Yeah. And like all projects that public engagement really helps us refine a design and that's really what you're talking about when you talk about what the final right away ends up being. We talked about the tenants of what came out of public engagement and part of that was to minimize the footprint as much as possible.

So that's been kind of part of the guide to how we kind of work through and get to where we are now. So we're looking at trying to Use retaining walls, use other methods we have with the slopes and ditch lines to just try and tighten everything up to minimize the impact. 

Matt Peiken: But yet, the connector still needs to serve the purpose of what it was originally meant for.

It does. We haven't even described that yet. Can you, as best as you can, or as succinctly as you can, why is the I 26 connector necessary? 

Nathan Moneyham: I think the biggest name for the connector is, comes from its name, or the name comes from it. It's to connect 26 for a long time. And really when you come up 240 and have to merge in with really what is local traffic.

Matt Peiken: And you're talking both directions on 240. 

Nathan Moneyham: And then down from 1923 as well. There's not a connection there. that the interstate I 26 is disconnected in the area right there across the French Broad. So this project connects that. It provides through connection for I 26 traffic to continue on through Asheville.

And stay on interstate. 

Matt Peiken: One of the things that I found fascinating when I talked with Stephanie Monson Dahl at The City I did an episode with her and she talked at length about the multimodal elements that are going to go into this. I can't imagine that was top of mind when the Connector first came up about making it a pedestrian friendly, bike friendly route.

How has that... fundamentally changed this 

Nathan Moneyham: project. It's definitely been a shift from originally. And that's not just with this, but that's statewide with D O T our complete streets policy is fairly new. I

Matt Peiken: hadn't heard this term, the complete streets policy. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Nathan Moneyham: Yeah. So our complete streets policy is basically when we look at highway projects, we also look at pedestrian improvements and multimodal aspects to every project we do. We inform that based off all of the transportation plans that are in place from local organizations like the MPO.

And when we build a highway project, we also incorporate all the pedestrian improvements. And in the case of the connector That's pretty substantial. The work that will go on with some new greenways that will be built on Riverside Drive and also along Patton and pedestrian bridges will be built also.

So that's definitely been one of the things that has helped move us forward and steer the design to address not just motorist needs but pedestrians as well. 

Matt Peiken: Has this element of it added to the footprint by having to accommodate, not having to, but wanting to accommodate multimodal transportation?

Does that add to the footprint of the connector? 

Nathan Moneyham: Not really, when we build a road, typically, if you just think standard sidewalk a new construction road there's some level and width of berm, which is that space outside of, say, a curb line or the shoulder. A lot of the pedestrian facilities are already contained inside our footprint.

I think it maybe expands a little bit in this case for the connector just because of some of the greenway connections we're going to build. But for the most part, it's not a, too much of an increase impact when you start talking about adding pedestrian facilities to the side of the road.

Width obviously increases when you talk about bike lanes and those things, but we're early enough in the process that we can accommodate and work through all those things as we finish the design. 

Matt Peiken: So eventually though, you need to acquire properties.

You need to acquire land that can accommodate this. And through all the hearings and the decades of talk, there are some properties that need to be acquired. Talk about that process. Who initiates that and who decides? Yes, we need to acquire X properties and this is how we're going to go about doing it.

Nathan Moneyham: So when we get to that point that we've completed the design to the point that we know what the right of way limits are, what the final needs of property are the initial stage is that we get right of way authorization from our Board of Transportation. So that's just the final approval for us to start the process.

Once that's done, right of way agents will make what we call initial contact to property owners. 

Matt Peiken: Right Of way agents? Is that what you said? 

Nathan Moneyham: Okay. So we have a right of way office basically that handles and manages that process here. All of the 14 divisions in North Carolina have one. Ours is here in Asheville.

And they help us manage that process and basically they'll make initial contact to a property owner. In that initial contact, they'll let them know what the needs of the project are. Show them set of plans, specifically walk through them what that is from there. An appraisal stop process would start to help determine the value of that property.

And that's done in the same way that you would get an appraisal if you're buying a house today, separate from D. O. T. And that appraisal basically takes looks at your property in its current condition and his current value and then doesn't after appraisal, basically looking at What it will be like after the road and that could vary from a small impact and to your front yard or your backyard to something that it could be a total take from a standpoint of the whole property being needed for the road.

Matt Peiken: And the difference it tell me if I'm wrong here, but the difference between this and a typical real estate Transaction is there's no choice here this has to happen right as far as the state is concerned It's going to happen. It's just a matter on what 

Nathan Moneyham: terms correct. Yeah, and that's the biggest difference and we explain that when we make initial contact with somebody is the process and There are laws that protect property owners through this process as well because once that appraisal comes back and That informs an offer that would be made by NCDOT to a property owner includes the value of the property.

If it's a total take or if it's a partial impact it includes potential damages. If the property is use has somehow been limited because of the road. 

I think one thing that's important for people to understand, especially if you're going through the process, it is a negotiation. From that standpoint, I mean, the need is there and we have to do what we have to do.

But through the appraisal process, we're working towards paying fair market value for property. We're not. trying to take anything from anybody. And we worked through that process, those appraisals, there's a negotiation that happens. And even past that, if we can't come to agreement with the property owner through our processes From that point it goes to what we call condemnation, which is the legal term, but even at that point that sounds scary But what it is that if we can't come to an agreement, it just goes to the court system To determine that value when that happens the money that we've offered a property owner goes to the clerk of court and can be made Available to them through that process 

Matt Peiken: But that eventually that leads to eviction and then they have to move whether they 

Nathan Moneyham: like it or not 

Yeah, and that goes back to the laws and things I think from that standpoint We try and be understanding and when we talk to people about the needs and help them understand the needs and also to go through the process with them from an evaluation standpoint, that that they get the full value of their property.

Matt Peiken: I think for a lot of people and maybe even some business owners, financial Renumeration. Financial pay. It's about, it's the emotion 

Nathan Moneyham: behind it. 

Yeah, and that's, we try and be understanding, and the folks that do that are understanding when they make that initial contact. 

Matt Peiken: One of the things that drew me, and I have not seen the working right of way map, but I came to understand that the salvage station, the venue, is on the right of way map.

And I thought, wow, that's probably the most public business, I could be wrong, you could correct me on this, but the largest and most public business, publicly used element of this 

so when I thought of Salvage Station, I thought, some venues they're buildings, right?

They can be recreated. There's no way Salvage Station's going to be recreated 

Nathan Moneyham: somewhere. 

Yeah, and that, that's true probably for a lot of properties because people have attachment and we understand that when we talk to people and go through that process, whether it's a residential or a business people become attached and that's something we are mindful of when we go through this process 

Matt Peiken: one of the things that was brought to my attention too, and again, I haven't seen the map, but, Historically, not here necessarily or only here, but a lot of places, communities of color and residential areas of color have historically been taken over by interstate development.

I'm wondering how sensitive this project has been or the people behind this project have been to that and tried to work with our communities of color here to minimize any footprint for the connector in their neighborhoods. 

Nathan Moneyham: That's definitely a consideration and through this process again, this took decades.

Part of that is that we go through a process of work on the federal highways administration to, from an environmental standpoint, and that includes endangered species and those things, but also. from a cultural standpoint. That's also considered. So with that in mind, communities like Burton Street, like the Hillcrest Apartments have been given special consideration to the impacts of the project.

Burton Street, for example there's a Burton Street work group that is still meeting and in coordination now to help mitigate the impacts of the project with things like pedestrian improvements to the intersection of Patton and Florida Avenue potentially a mural on what could be a sound wall, depending on if it's approved by the community.

All those things are still ongoing and ongo as we work

And it goes back to what we talked about at the beginning. It's a lot of engagement and community involvement to work through those things to help mitigate those 

Matt Peiken: factors. A lot of people may not know, and I don't know. The specialties that might exist within D o t or that D o T contracts with that are outside DOT's core expertise, which is engineering.

You mentioned the aesthetics. Talk about the different specialties that come into play that either d o t directly employees that have nothing to do with direct road development and engineering and building that go into some of the considerations you're 

Nathan Moneyham: talking about. So we cover a lot of ground at DOT and we've got a lot of different units and a lot of folks working on this project.

Just to even start from the beginning, we've got planning units both in Raleigh and here locally that work with NPO to determine what projects even move forward. We've got folks in Raleigh that are working on the budget aspect of all that stuff. And then from a technical standpoint, we've got environmental units that help us work through the process of protecting the physical environment.

We've got a whole public engagement unit that helps us manage the community involvement piece. And then from a design standpoint, we've got many specialties from there, from roadway to structures to hydro. And then construction. 

Matt Peiken: I can't even fathom how all these various specialties and people looking out for these various areas come into a harmony with a project as complicated as I 26.

Has it come into harmony or is that part of why this project continues to, Go on and on is that it's just such a complex project that not everybody's going to be happy. 

Nathan Moneyham: I think we've spent a lot of time working with all those units and with the communities to get to the point that we're all moving forward with the project With that being said while we are in harmony, and it's never a thing that you just okay.

We're all in agreement Let's stamp it. We're done it's going to be a continued process even while we build it of continued coordination with the city and with the communities and That really never 

Matt Peiken: stops one of the things that would fall under that soft category That I was talking about is character and maybe you can't pontificate about this But I was going to ask you, how do you think this will affect the character of that area?

You think of Riverside Drive, River Arch District, Salvage Station has its own feel to it. I don't know another venue that's a reclaimed salvage yard and it's turned into a a major concert venue for this region. A project like this has to change the character of an area and I'm just curious.

How do you mitigate that or even articulate that within? dot and what to preserve or do you even go down that road?

Nathan Moneyham: I think we do and that's part of that ongoing coordination. I think the status committee has met for almost four years now and that's been a process of That's been their main goal the what committee Aesthetics, okay, which is you know, it's something that the city of ashville put in place and That we work with to help define, you know, the aesthetics aspects of the project All of that really points to what you're talking about the character the views of ashville and there are pieces of that they're incorporated in really all aspects of the project.

And again, like we said earlier, it's a balance of what can we do? Um, Balance with the actual need from congestion and safety and all the other things that get considered in the 

Matt Peiken: technical design. Yeah. So what's our timeline here? You said it's about to go out to bid. 

Nathan Moneyham: There's a couple of different sections of this project that are about to go to construction. Commonly known really as the a section has been split into two. We'll talk about those first because they're coming first. The first section is I 2513AAAB. 

Matt Peiken: Everyone will know that. No, they won't.

Nathan Moneyham: No, they won't. That section, and the key pieces of that section are really, it's I 40. So if you ride through. In this area, if you go west on 40 in the left lane, you're familiar with the condition of that concrete and the issues that we have with A. S. R. Which is alkaline silica reaction.

But that's a maintenance issue with that. And as well as Smokey Park. So that's the area of the project. The work associated with that is to replace all that concrete. It will add a new off ramp for Smokey Park Highway. For the westbound lanes. The other big thing that the AA, AB section does that lets later this year, it will widen the I 40 eastbound to I 26 eastbound ramp which is another area of congestion that it'll widen that to two lanes.

It'll really tie into what was just completed with the Brevard Road project and improve some things there. So that's, the AAAB. When we talk about that project, that's the smallest of the three that are fixing to go to construction. It's a bid build. What that means for us is that we have fully designed the project all the way to completion.

That's an area that we are actively now buying right away. And we'll let that to contract currently scheduled in November. And then soon after that once the contract's awarded, you can see a contractor actually start work in that area. 

Matt Peiken: So through the winter, Oh, in the spring, 

Nathan Moneyham: you'll see some stuff happen in the winter, but like most things in this area, from construction industry standpoint, it's weather dependent on how much they'll be able to really do this winter.

Matt Peiken: Okay. So then what 

Nathan Moneyham: happens there? 

The next section is the other part of what we would call the A section of the connector, so that project specifically runs and is well, wide in I 240. What we would commonly consider I 240 now.

So that's basically from the West side of Brevard Road where it crosses I 240 up to Haywood Road. Okay. And that project will widen existing 240 to six lanes. That includes Upgrading and Brevard Road interchange and the Amboy Road interchange. The design actually for that project Connects those two interchanges together with frontage roads 

Matt Peiken: Is this where we'll see some of the pedestrian elements?

Nathan Moneyham: So yeah, there's greenway included in that between Amble Road up to Brevard sidewalk on Brevard Road as well. So all that starts to come into that AC piece. Similar to the first section we talked about, it's bid build. That means we've designed it fully. We're actively buying right away on that section now.

So the property owners that are affected are already in communication with our right away staff. We're doing appraisals and working through that process. That project currently is scheduled to let in February of next year. So again, something that you would see probably construction on next summer.

Matt Peiken: So these things are obviously happening concurrently and overlapping. And there's a third element to this, right? 

Nathan Moneyham: And the third is the biggest. And that's from the terminology standpoint, it's I 2513BD. And when people say connector, that's what they think of is this project. And it's the largest section of the three that are about to go to construction.

And that really carries Haywood road all the way to Broadway. 

Matt Peiken: Can you give us a number? Of how many properties, how much acreage, how many, businesses residences is there any quantifiable number that are affected by this in terms of to any degree right away? 

Nathan Moneyham: Not fully at this time. We know those numbers, I don't know them off the top of my head. We can look them up in a second, but for the a section where we've done bid build. Where we've designed it fully and we're purchasing right away now It's defined the difference and what kind of makes it somewhat murky for folks and Is that the northern section that biggest piece of the project is what we call a design build project and what that means is We only carry it so far and when we award it to a contractor.

We're not just awarding construction. We're awarding to finish the design, to buy right away, move utilities, build the 

Matt Peiken: project. 

Why isn't D O T carrying it all the way? 

Nathan Moneyham: We do design build is in a process that's been in place for a long time. We've used it for various projects. Brevard road locally is another one.

That was done with that delivery method. What's the benefit of that? The benefit is schedule. The amount of time that it would take us to go through our normal process and get to construction. Is a lot longer than if we can do the section design build it brings a contractor on board.

One of the big benefits of that from a schedule standpoint is the contractor. Can start designing the pieces that they want to work on first start 

Matt Peiken: But they control their schedule, right? But they haven't gone through the work that you guys have in terms of all this talk in the community the committees these outside firms are they're not Privy to that are 

Nathan Moneyham: they?

They are. And that's partly really what we spend when I spend the most time on right now, we've got several units that are involved in that and a lot of staff. But when we talk about preparing the contract, what we're doing is quantifying contractually all the commitments and conversations that have been made over the past several decades.

So those contractors that are bidding on the design build project know what those commitments are. And then, like we said before on top of that contractual process of actually putting all those things from conversation into actual language that goes into the contract that will have with the contractor.

D. O. T. Staff will continue to work through that with them the whole time so that the knowledge you're talking about really comes from us in administering that contract. 

Matt Peiken: Lastly, or maybe not lastly, but the last big thought I've had is which everybody wants to know is how is this going to affect traffic during construction?

Are there going to be times when 2 40 is completely shut down and you have to divert people onto area surface roads or tell me what people, what drivers can expect once things start happening next spring. 

Nathan Moneyham: I think the expectation is we'll work to maintain the existing pattern of number of lanes for 240 moving through this area for all three projects.

That's not to say that there won't be closures and detours but what we really are in the process of now with all three projects. As we finish designs and actually work through construction phasing and how that's going to work is determining, what's the best way to approach this and how can we use the space that we have without increasing temporary impacts and those things to stay inside our footprint, to build temporary lanes, to maintain traffic and those things. Through this period of construction, which could last, As many as seven years, 

Matt Peiken: potentially, wow, you think it could potentially be seven years till we see all this 

Nathan Moneyham: done?

I think so. I think completion dates will probably be around the 2030 timeframe for these projects. 

Matt Peiken: Speaking of timeline. So I think about what's happening down on, as you go down 26 South toward the airport, 

from what I understand, that's taken a lot longer than what people initially anticipated. Or is that not so? 

Nathan Moneyham: It is a couple of different factors of that. 

That project specifically crosses Buncombe County into Henderson.

So it really is, it's two separate projects back to back, but there's a lot of coordination between the two. I 

Matt Peiken: was just wondering because that's gone on so long, can we expect you say seven years that we're going to be looking 10 years from now and it'll still be going on here? 

Nathan Moneyham: It's hard to say.

But I think we worked through to try and hold schedule as best we can. But in this area, whether it's an issue, material availability is an issue that's impacted our current projects. There's lots of different things that come into play. Utility conflicts is another thing that is always an issue on projects.

It's hard to predict, but it's a whole lot of people working to try and make it happen. And 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, so even under a best case scenario, we're talking seven years and then, 

Nathan Moneyham: yeah, that would be best.

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