02/13/06 — Counties consider plans for highway

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Counties consider plans for highway

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on February 13, 2006 1:55 PM

A corridor agreement among the counties through which U.S. 70 runs could become a reality soon, Wayne officials said.

The agreement would help expedite improvements to the heavily traveled highway, planners say, by allowing local governments to present a united front when seeking help from state and federal authorities.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he expects most of the counties involved to sign on to the agreement after looking over the paperwork. When they do, he said, it will put them "on the same page."

"I see this as the first major ray of hope in getting things done," Smith said. "The people along Highway 40 made this happen and put their data in front of state officials, and I think we can do the same thing."

Momentum for the agreement has grown over the past year, Smith said. Officials in some of the counties were unsure whether to make the financial commitment, he said, but most have come to see the benefits of working together. Plans for several bypasses along the route have been on the books for years but a coordinated effort would help ensure a smoother flow of traffic from Raleigh to the coast.

The counties involved are Johnston, Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, Craven and Carteret.

Wayne is a key player in the development of the agreement, Smith said.

"I think Wayne County will be a catalyst to keep things moving. Ultimately, if this thing is designated as a corridor, we will ask DOT for a corridor study. I hope we knock the hurdles down before they come, and expedite the process," Smith said.

County representatives met last week in Havelock.

Craven County Manager Harold Blizzard said the group is gaining ground.

"I think we're looking to move ahead with the work we've intended to do all along. We need to get everybody on the same sheet of music and figure out what direction we need to go in," Blizzard said.

The agreement would ask local governments to come up with money to study the problems along the highway and the best ways to address them.

Smith said Havelock has taken a bold step and decided to hire a consulting firm to conduct a $60,000 study of a possible bypass there.

"I tip my hat to them. That's an active part in the planning process," Smith said.

Wayne County Commission-er Atlas Price said he hopes all of the counties will follow suit and hire Kimley-Horn. The development of an overall corridor concept is vital to the economic future of all the counties involved, he said. Consultants would gather information such as traffic counts, accident statistics and maintenance records to help guide planners in determining how best to improve the highway.

"We're still putting it all together. We hope to hire them and get them to lead this thing. This is an important issue for all of the counties. Sure, some of the towns have bypasses and corridors, but I think the areas between the corridors need a lot of attention," Price said.

Even with the agreement in place, it will take a lot of effort to make the corridor plan a reality, Smith said. The counties involved are expected to contribute $100,000 to the effort this year. Smith said he realizes money could be an issue for some counties. But he said some grant money might be available to help.

"This is not going to be easy. We have a long way to go and differences to work out locally before the state gets involved or Highway 70 is never going to happen," he said.