Shared by IRPO– 2020 NC Development Tier Designations

Since 2007, North Carolina has used a three-level system for designating development tiers. The designations, which are mandated by state law, determine a variety of state funding opportunities to assist in economic development.

Our Region’s Tier ratings (McDowell, Polk and Rutherford) are unchanged from last year.

Click here for more information.

This report documents the process for calculating tiers and lists counties that have changed tiers since 2019. A North Carolina tier map and tier calculations are included for reference.

Shared by IRPO–NC 2018 Traffic Crash Facts, Isothermal Region

NCDOT has just published its 2018 report on traffic crashes in North Carolina.

For our three-county region (McDowell, Polk, and Rutherford), Polk has the lowest crash rate per million vehicle miles traveled (MVMT) at 131.48, putting it at 97 of the 100 counties. McDowell is 238.25 (62 of 100) and Rutherford is 247.00 (55 of 100). Both are below the state average of 307.32.

Rutherford and McDowell are quite close to the state average for percent alcohol-related crashes at 3.8% and 3.5% (state: 3.5%). Polk was substantially higher at 4.6%.

Looking at bicycle and pedestrian crashes, there was an average of 2 per year across the region. For pedestrian crashes, the 5-year average is 19 per year.

See more about our region below or go here for the full report.

Polk County CTP Survey

NCDOT staff helping to prepare Polk County’s survey for mailing

Polk County, the towns of Columbus, Saluda, and Tryon, the Isothermal Rural Planning Organization (IRPO), and the North Carolina Department of Transportation – Transportation Planning Division (NCDOT TPD) are working together to develop a Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) that includes Polk County. This Plan will identify transportation needs and long-term solutions for the next 25 to 30 years, including highway, aviation, bike/ped, rail, and public transportation.

The public is encouraged to provide feedback for the CTP by completing the survey that is being mailed to all Polk County households (as determined by tax records).  Prepaid return envelopes are also included with the mailed surveys.  If you do not receive a survey and would like to participate, a digital survey is also available beginning November 25, 2019, at In addition, a Spanish survey can be obtained by emailing

Shared by IRPO– Schedule Set for Repairs to Saluda Mountain Drainage

Work near I-26 next year, Howard Gap Road to follow

SALUDA – N.C. Department of Transportation officials have completed a condition assessment and developed preliminary plans to repair drainage infrastructure in a section of Polk County that includes Interstate 26 at a higher elevation and Howard Gap Road at a lower elevation.
Severe storms in recent years have damaged drainage structures beside the interstate and a storm in January destroyed a section of Howard Gap Road.
“The initial focus will be on the critical drainage components on I-26 because the stormwater drains down from I-26 to Howard Gap Road,” Division 14 District Engineer Lonnie Watkins said.
Engineers are developing detailed design plans to repair or upgrade critical components of the drainage system on I-26. Transportation officials anticipate completing the plans this winter and awarding a contract next spring. Under that schedule, construction would take place next summer. 
During construction, engineers will create detailed plans to rebuild Howard Gap Road, add a new retaining wall and repair or upgrade drainage on that section of the road. Transportation officials anticipate awarding a contract in the spring of 2021 followed by construction that summer.
“This course of action will provide stability to I-26 and a new road to residents in the Howard Gap area,” Watkins said. “Every day, these long-term projects will benefit thousands of people who drive in Polk County.”


Shared by IRPO–Speed Limits Changing in I-26 Work Zones

ASHEVILLE –The N.C. Department of Transportation has reduced the speed limit in work zone areas of Interstate 26 between I-40 in Buncombe County and U.S. 64 in Henderson County. The speed limit has been reduced to 55 mph in areas where lanes have been narrowed, bridge work is taking place or the contractor is performing other work.

The speed limit will remain at 60 mph where no work taking place and lanes have not been narrowed. “The speed limit reductions should raise awareness of those traveling through the work zone,” Division 13 Assistant Construction Engineer Nathan Moneyham said. “It is critical for drivers to slow down and be alert, especially when there are construction activities and backups.”

The limits on I -26 are as follows:
•    I-26 East from I-240/I-40/I-26 interchange to Exit 37, Long Shoals Road, will be posted 55 mph.
•    I-26 East from Exit 37, Long Shoals Road, to the Henderson County line will remain 60 mph.
•    I-26 East from the Henderson County Line to Exit 49, Four Seasons Boulevard, will be posted 55 mph.
•    I-26 West from Exit 49, Four Seasons Boulevard, to the Henderson County line will be posted 55 mph.
•    I-26 West from the Henderson County line to approximately ½ mile prior to Exit 33, Brevard Road, will remain 60 mph.
•    I-26 West through the current Brevard Road interchange project to I-240/I-40/I-26 interchange will remain 55 mph. 

In the six years from 2012 to 2018, more than 35,600 crashes and 173 deaths occurred in work zones in North Carolina. Last year alone, there were more than 7,300 work zone crashes, and 32 people died.

Safe and efficient work zones begin with proper planning design and implementation. But drivers must watch for changing conditions and exercise caution when they approach and drive through work zones. Driving on I-26 in the coming years will be no different.

Everyone from project planners and designers to motorcycle, car and truck drivers, along with passengers and law enforcement officers have a responsibility to keep the work zone safe by performing their roles. 

Driver-related factors that affect work zone crashes include speeding, distractions, inattentive driving and aggressive driving. Rear-end crashes are the most common collisions in work zones, and often those are the result of following too close or in combination with distracted driving. 

“The signs remind drivers of the new speed limits and to be careful in the work zone,” Division 14 construction engineer Ted Adams said. “Everybody maintaining the speed limit, paying attention to their driving and being aware of their surroundings will help each individual driver and everybody else on the interstate too.”

Drivers should…
•    Be patient
•    Prepare for delays by leaving early
•    Stay alert and be aware of surroundings
•    Pay attention to new traffic patterns
•    Turn on headlights to increase vehicle visibility
•    Eliminate in-car distractions
•    Maintain the posted speed limit Additional statistics from 2018
•    74 percent of work zone crashes occurred on clear days
•    10 percent of work zone crashes occurred in rainy conditions
•    73 percent of work zone crashes during daylight hours
•    4 percent of work zone crashes occurred at dawn or dusk
•    71 percent of work zone crashes resulted in property damage only
•    20 percent of work zone crashes resulted in minor injuries
•    Buncombe County had 145 work zone crashes, which ranked 9th in the state
•    Henderson County had 30 work zone crashes, which ranked 29th 

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