Asheville - Laughs and shrieks will echo from the midway. The smell of funnel cakes and corn dogs will waft from food trucks. Livestock will be judged and blue ribbons will be awarded during the 10-day Mountain State Fair at the WNC Ag Center starting Friday morning.
More than 190,000 visitors attended the fair in 2015. Almost every visitor to the fairgrounds this year will be taking a slightly different route, thanks to a new diverging diamond interchange at Airport Road and Interstate 26 that the N.C. Department of Transportation completed earlier this summer.
"I see traffic moving through the intersection much quicker than in the past and we don't expect to see nearly as many delays," Division 13 Project Development Engineer Cole Hood said. "The diverging diamond was constructed because it can handle a larger volume of traffic."
The previous intersection was a traditional diamond with four different phases to the two traffic lights. Transportation engineers noticed that traffic backed up so much at times that cars were stopped on the interstate, creating dangerous driving conditions.
After considering various options for improving the intersection, the diverging diamond design rose as the most logical option. The intersection allows two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road and moves high volumes of traffic without increasing the number of lanes or signals.
The diverging diamond is a dynamic part of Governor McCrory's 25-year Vision for transportation which connects North Carolina residents to jobs, education, health care and recreation, in this case, the Western Mountain State Fair.
Increased safety is a large part of the new interchange. Sight distances are improved, there are free-flowing turns when entering and exiting I-26 and turning left against oncoming traffic is a thing of the past.
Travelling through the interchange will be new for many visitors to the fair. But it's rather quite simple because like any major interchange, there are pavement markings, signals and overhead signs directing drivers into the proper lane for their destination.
Once drivers exiting I-26 or arriving from the center of Asheville breeze through the interchange, they'll be greeted with slight alterations to the traffic pattern heading to parking lots.
Motorists heading from the Asheville direction on Airport Road will be directed to use the left lane, drive beyond the fairgrounds, and make a U-turn at the direction of a Highway Patrol officer. Through traffic in this direction will use the right lane.
Visitors heading to the fair from the Mills River area on Airport Road will utilize the right lanes to be directed to parking while through traffic uses the left lane.
For drivers who want to avoid the area, the combination of Long Shoals Road and Brevard Road is an option, as is the combination of I-26 and Hendersonville Road.
As always, transportation officials remind motorists to stay alert, follow all traffic signs, obey instructions of those directing traffic, and exercise a little more patience when heading to the Mountain State Fair.
For real-time travel information, visit the Traveler Services section of NCDOT.gov or follow NCDOT on Twitter.