05/01/06 — Carteret joins push for U.S. 70 corridor

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Carteret joins push for U.S. 70 corridor

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 1, 2006 1:47 PM

Carteret County is the newest member of the commission working to build a highway corridor from Clayton to Morehead City.

All but one of the counties had to be a part of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission before Carteret County would join, officials had said. The county's Board of Commissioners made the stipulation to make sure the counties in the region supported the idea, Carteret Commissioner Tom Steepy said.

Other commission members are excited about Carteret's decision.

"I'm just tickled to death that they have decided to come in and work with us. The more counties we have, the stronger our voice is, and that's important," Wayne County Commissioner Atlas Price said.

Steepy said the commission is one of the first steps in brightening the future of eastern North Carolina.

"One of our main thrusts is to be a part of the total development package and to see everyone gain from our port development," he said.

The U.S. 70 Corridor Commission's plan is to create a limited access highway from Clayton to Morehead City allowing travelers to drive 70 mph, which would increase economic development and decrease travel times throughout the region and state. The commission has been working with consultant Kimley-Horn to expedite the planning process.

The existing U.S. 70 has more than 90 stoplights between Raleigh and Morehead City. The highway also has 250 median openings, which could be potential sites for stoplights, Kimley-Horn representative Fred Burchett said.

During the next year, 1,000 more trucks each day will travel on U.S. 70 from Morehead City, Kimley-Horn representative Mike Rutkowski said. During that year, the average cost of new construction is $10 million to $15 million per mile.

The counties affected by a U.S. 70 corridor are Johnston, Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, Craven and Carteret.

Each of the six counties has contributed to paying the initial consultant fee for the access study. Wayne County Manager Lee Smith originally suggested each county chip in $25,000 annually over the next five years to pay a consultant to assist state planners in the project's development.

The counties and other contributors are expected to contribute $100,000 to pay Kimley-Horn's bill this year.

Carteret and Lenoir counties are committed to funding the corridor for $20,000 annually. Craven County, Wayne County and the city of Goldsboro have each pledged $25,000 annually, and the commission has also asked for an additional $20,000 from the North Carolina Eastern Region.

Jones County officials said their county could not financially contribute to the project, but would support the concept. Commission members agreed to change the bylaws to allow Jones as a conceptually supporting member of the group.

Jones County Commissioner Jessie Ray Eubanks said earlier this month that U.S. 17 has a larger impact in his county than U.S. 70 since 14 miles of U.S. 17 goes through Jones as compared to only about four miles of U.S. 70.

Jones County Commissioner Joseph Wiggins said the county can't afford to fund both highway projects.

It is important for Jones to improve U.S. 17 because it could help improve safety and economic development, Wiggins said.

"It's a dangerous stretch of road. We've had a lot of fatalities because of it. We've also had industries that wanted to come to Jones, but they didn't because of the danger. We've been trying to improve this road for 20 years," he said.

The highway is a four-lane road in Craven and Onslow counties, but is reduced to two lanes throughout Jones. Jones officials said they would attend commission meetings and conceptually support the project if the rest of the commission supported the improvement of U.S. 17.

Johnston County is the only county that is not a commission member. Smith said he believes, as the project gains momentum, Johnston will join and take on an active role in planning the U.S. 70 project.

A U.S. 70 that provided travelers with an uncongested east-west corridor through the region would boost tourism, Craven County Manager Harold Blizzard said.

"We plan to study the issue and look for ways to enhance Highway 70. We hope it will be interstate quality. It would be more convenient for travelers and we'd have a transportation route more attractive to tourists and industries," he said.

Much like Jones County, U.S. 17 is a major highway for Craven County, Blizzard said.

"We are just as interested in U.S. 17 getting improved as U.S. 70," he said.

Blizzard said he would like to see U.S. 17 become a four-lane highway that stretches from Virginia to South Carolina. He would also like to see an interstate quality U.S. 70 provide easier access from Raleigh to Morehead City.

The inclusion of Carteret County into the commission will help make construction of a U.S. 70 bypass possible, Steepy said.

"We're excited about being part of the coalition. We're excited about what we've seen from Kimley-Horn. Their work will help us and all of the counties along the corridor," he said.