11/23/05 — Wayne towns ready to take advantage of new U.S. 117

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Wayne towns ready to take advantage of new U.S. 117

By Turner Walston
Published in News on November 23, 2005 1:50 PM

Although the new U.S. 117 North corridor won't be completely open until sometime next year, officials in Pikeville and Fremont are already laying the groundwork to take advantage of the expected increase in highway traffic.

Pikeville Administrator Lonnie Graves said the town is improving its infrastructure in an attempt to make Pikeville more attractive to developers.

"We're improving the infrastructure because we want to be in the position to host any economic development, great or small," Graves said. "Without infrastructure, you don't have the capacity to host anybody."

Graves said working on sewer lines, upgrading electrical systems and repaving roads would put the town in a position to accept growth.

"That's one of our main objectives, because Pikeville has to grow," Graves said.

Fremont recently received grants worth more than $1.7 million to repair its sewer system. Fremont Administrator Kerry McDuffie said taking care of existing residents is the town's priority.

"We want to make the infrastructure more solid for all of our customers, which in the end would make it more solid for those (potential customers)," McDuffie said. "Efficiency is something we want to strive for."

McDuffie said the town has rezoned land along the corridor to attract development.

"It's been rezoned to highway business, which will allow things like convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, stuff like that," McDuffie said.

McDuffie said developers may need to see the new U.S. 117 completed before fully realizing its potential.

"I think those opportunities will be a little bit easier to work with once it gets open all the way on the Goldsboro end and the Wilson end. Once you get both ends open it'll increase traffic dramatically, and people will be able to see the commercial benefits of it," he said.

Although the new four-lane highway will route a lot of traffic around Pikeville and Fremont, both administrators said they are confident of the four-lane's potential to help their towns grow.

"There's two sides of it," McDuffie said. "Certainly we're going to lose traffic on the old 117. It's going to take traffic off of that without any question. That could create some slow-down in the short term. As development takes place out there, it's going to bring more people in here. That's not anything we're actually going to know until it takes place."

Graves said he looks at the road solely as a positive change.

"Most of the business we get is from local people anyway," he said. "To us, 117 would just be an added bonus to bring in more outsiders."

Wayne County development officials are also looking at the potential for business development posed by the new highway.

"We've had our eye on that corridor for a long time. Several years ago, a consultant told us that that would be a next wave of development," said Joanna Thompson, president of the Wayne County Economic Development Commission.

Ms. Thompson said she and County Manager Lee Smith have met with town officials to discuss ways to make U.S. 117 a viable option for business and industrial prospects. Opening the highway is just the first step in preparing for economic development, she said.

"Just because you have land on the new bypass does not mean it's going to be the perfect industrial site. Geographically, it's great. Now let's look at the other things to see if it's still compatible for that kind of use."

Ms. Thompson said other factors that play into economic development decisions are soil compatibility, environmental issues and workforce potential.

State Sen. John Kerr said he is excited about drivers from the Triangle area coming through Wayne County on their way to Myrtle Beach.

"When this road opens up to the north, and I-95 in Wilson cuts right, it's probably 20 to 30 miles shorter to stay on this new 117," Kerr said. "They're going to be able to come straight through here and shave 40 to 50 miles off the trip," he said.

Kerr said the corridor is a big step for development in northern Wayne County.

"I think this could be a real opportunity for Wayne County to do something. It's not the whole answer, but it's a piece of the puzzle."