03/12/04 — Interchange

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By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 12, 2004 2:05 PM

Goldsboro must either accept a plan for a stoplight at a busy intersection on the new U.S. Highway 117 or risk delaying the project.

That's what members of local transportation committees learned Thursday from Anthony Roper, a representative from the state Department of Transportation.

The local Transportation Advisory Committee, which has members from the Goldsboro City Council and the county commissioners, began talking to the DOT last year when it learned about the state's plan to put a stoplight at the new highway's intersection with N.C. 581.

Instead, local officials wanted an overpass that would provide access to the highway. The concern is that a stoplight would cause traffic to back up at an intersection many people will use on their way to and from work at Cherry Hospital and O'Berry Center.

City Council members were told at their retreat last month that there was a choice between a bridge, or "flyover," with no highway access or the stoplight. But Roper said that was not the case.

"I think we need some clarity," Roper said. "It seems like people think there's a choice right now between an at-grade crossing and a flyover. There's not."

Roper said the plan had always called for an at-grade intersection with a stoplight.

"The environmental statement prepared only considered an at-grade intersection. So it's not simple," he said. "We'd have to modify the document, and if you open up the document to the whole project, it could bring it to a halt."

City Manager Richard Slozak said he thought that a bridge could be built without having any more environmental studies.

"Any major modification could have an impact," Roper responded.

He added that changing the document would open the door again for comments or action from people who were originally against the project.

Roper also said there were contractual issues to be considered. "We have a contract with a construction company, and he's committed resources."

Roper said the DOT has always known that the interchange would need to be modified after the project was completed, but he said that in the interim the state had determined that the at-grade crossing would work.

The city met Wednesday with representatives from Cherry Hospital, O'Berry Center and other businesses in the area whose workers would be affected by the crossing.

Slozak said that he believed that most of the drivers would want to keep an at-grade intersection.

The entire 22-mile highway, being built west of the existing U.S. 117 between Goldsboro and Wilson, will pass by Fremont and Pikeville and end south of the Ash Street Extension at the existing U.S. 117 South. The project is expected to cost about $123 million in state and federal tax dollars.