03/22/05 — U.S. 70 bypass may be slowed by lack of money, official says

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U.S. 70 bypass may be slowed by lack of money, official says

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 22, 2005 1:47 PM

It appears Wayne County may have to wait a while for a U.S. 70 bypass, but the Clayton bypass will most likely move forward this year, says a state transportation official.

"We're having to cut back on some of the projects that were scheduled,"said Jerry Page, an engineer with the Department of Transportation. He spoke at a meeting of the Eastern Carolina Rural Transportation Planning Organization last week. The group includes Wayne, Duplin, Greene and Lenoir counties.

The proposed 21-mile U.S. 70 bypass around Goldsboro would run from just west of N.C. 581 to east of Promised Land Road in Lenoir County. The project has been on the state's transportation list since 1999 and was scheduled for rights-of-way acquisition from 2003 to 2006 with construction beginning after 2006.

Though the state's Transportation Improvement Program list isn't due to be made public for a few weeks, Page explained how the transportation dollars work.

"You've probably been reading a lot in the paper about inequities in spending," Page said. "I'm going to try to explain how it works."

Page, an engineer for Division 4, said that transportation money is divided among seven regions, according to a 16-year-old formula based on interstate traffic, population and shared highways.

"Raleigh says it's losing money, but some regions outspent others in the past five years," Page said. "They sort of borrowed, and now it's time to pay it back."

Wayne County, which is in Division 4, falls in the "time to pay money back" category, he said.

"Division 4 has to pay back $56 million to Division 1," Page said. Wilson, Johnston, Edgecombe, Nash and Halifax counties also are part of Division 4.

Page also talked about the "cash crunch" in the state Department of Transportation.

"You've heard about us cutting back on highway letting because we're going to run out of money?" he asked. "Well, I'll try to explain that too."

Page said that state law requires the Department of Transportation to keep $174 million cash on hand.

"If we continued with the dollars we had under contract, or put new under contract, we'd be at our minimum by August or September," he said.

And, if the "letting" didn't stop, the department would soon be at zero.

"We had $1.4 billion planned in lettings, and that's been cut to $800 million," he said.

Page said that the DOT was spending around $1.1 million in highway projects in 1998, but by 2003 that figure had risen to $1.45 billion.

"We are trimming back to get revenue back where we feel comfortable," he said. "When you cut the letting in half, probably the Clayton Bypass will be the only one you're going to get this year."

The Clayton Bypass will cost around $130 million, but the Goldsboro Bypass will cost around $220 million, Page noted.

Since preliminary figures show Division 4 getting $361 million for road projects over the next six years, funding both those projects would take up most of the money, Page explained.

He also said that the DOT wasn't expecting the state to take money away from the highway division.

"The General Assembly probably won't be raiding the highway fund this year," he said.