04/14/06 — Officials continue push for U.S. 70 corridor

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Officials continue push for U.S. 70 corridor

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on April 14, 2006 1:48 PM

Jones County will be a member of the Highway 70 Corridor Commission, but its representatives say the county will not be able to contribute any money to further the effort.

But that doesn't mean the counties involved in the coalition will stop their push to make the highway project a reality, county representatives said Thursday.

Officials from Carteret, Jones, Lenoir, Craven and Wayne counties attended the Highway 70 Corridor Commission meeting at the Goldsboro Country Club.

Jessie Ray Eubanks of Jones County said U.S. 17 has a larger impact on his county than U.S. 70 since about 14 miles of U.S. 17 go through Jones as compared to only about 4 miles of U.S. 70.

Eubanks added that Jones is not in a position to provide monetary support for the corridor.

The Jones County decision could also affect the participation of Carteret County, officials said.

Tom Steepy said Carteret County has agreed to support the corridor conceptually and financially, but his county's Board of Commissioners will not provide that support unless all but one of the counties located within the corridor area are committed to the project.

"We need five of the six counties to show the commissioners we have a majority. We want to show that we're not being pushed through but pulled through as a group," Steepy said.

County representatives were joined by representatives from consultant Kimley-Horn, the North Carolina Department of Transport-ation and the North Carolina Eastern Region.

Johnston County representatives were not at the meeting, but Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he is hopeful that will change in the coming months.

"It's not that they don't support this, but, as this continues to grow, I think they will come along," Smith said.

According to the commission's interlocal agreement among the counties, Carteret, Craven, Lenoir and Wayne counties are committed to funding the corridor for $20,000 annually. Since the contract with Kimley-Horn is $100,000 per year, Smith said Craven County, Wayne County and the city of Goldsboro have pledged $25,000 annually. The commission has also asked for $20,000 this year from the North Carolina Eastern Region, Smith said.

To accommodate Jones County, other county representatives agreed to change the bylaws of the commission to allow the county to become a non-financial, conceptually supporting member of the group. Jones County representatives will continue to attend meetings and be a part of the process so each county can be part of the coalition for the project.

"I think we all support things that bring economic development to eastern North Carolina, but we have to have one voice in this project and move it forward today," Wayne County Commissioner Atlas Price said.

To assist the counties in this goal, Smith said Wayne County initially provided the money to hire consultant Kimley-Horn. On Thursday, representatives from the consulting firm discussed the approach the counties should take to develop a shared vision for the corridor, which allows the counties to receive more grants and get the project moved up the state's priority list.

One way each county can become more involved in the corridor and spread information to their constituents is by using the Web site, www.super70corridor.com, Kimley-Horn representative Mike Rutkowski said. The site just became operational and has the status and background information of every project along the corridor, interactive maps and information from each corridor meeting and presentation.

In the coming months, Fred Burchett of Kimley-Horn said county representatives can use the Web site while initiating land use control measures. For example, Burchett said there are 250 median openings along the Highway 70 corridor. Each median opening is a place for another traffic light. With land use control measures, counties can build collector streets, which would divert traffic to businesses along the highway to streets behind businesses, he said.

"This puts traffic on other streets and opens up the highway. It shows you are serious about land use management, and that you are serious about the highway corridor," Burchett said.

Roger Henderson of Kimley-Horn said the counties should also begin gathering data for a corridor management plan. To create the plan, Henderson suggested meeting with local planners, updating the county and city maps and reviewing traffic signals.

In the next year, 1,000 more trucks each day will travel on Highway 70 from Morehead City, Rutkowski said. During that time, the average cost of new construction is $10 million to $15 million per mile.

Price said each county should be willing to come together and speak with one voice so they don't miss the opportunity to affect eastern North Carolina for the better.

"What happens to 70 is going to happen because of the people in this room," he said.