10/08/06 — Duplin, Sampson officials want to weigh in on N.C. 24 improvements

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Duplin, Sampson officials want to weigh in on N.C. 24 improvements

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 8, 2006 2:01 AM

After at least 30 years in the works, the widening and improvement of N.C. 24, from U.S. 95 to U.S. 40, is finally moving toward a beginning. But first, the N.C. Department of Transportation has to decide where in Duplin County the highways are going to connect.

And with a large potential economic impact on the line, county officials are hoping they can wield some influence on the decision.

"DOT has finally completed the environmental studies and is in the final decision-making process," said Woody Brinson, executive director of Duplin County's Economic Develop-ment Commission. "Their proposal is to start at the western end, so it'll probably be at least 12 years before they get to Duplin County."

But the entire road must be planned before construction can start..

Right now, he explained, DOT has narrowed its N.C. 24/U.S. 40 interchange options to two routes -- one north, one south.

"Once they make the decision in the next six months, that's what everybody will have to live with," Brinson said.

Duplin County favors the northern route. Sampson County, through which the highway also will run, favors the southern route.

At last week's Duplin County Board of Commissioners meeting, county transportation committee chairman Earl Brinkley laid out the reasons for the northern route.

* It's projected to cost $14.625 million less.

* It's projected to require 23 fewer home and business relocations.

* It's projected to involve 30.2 percent less bridged wetland acres.

* It's projected to cross 36.9 percent fewer linear feet of streams.

"It also would have less of a negative impact on the businesses of Duplin County," Brinson said. "We looked at it from a business point of view."

However, he continued, Sampson County favors the southern route because, "it doesn't interrupt a minority Indian community, and they feel that will help permit it faster."

Representatives from both counties will be meeting within the next two weeks to try to hammer out a unified position.

"I personally am not that hung up on which route, north or south," Brinson said.

Duplin County's main objective is to take advantage of the economic possibilities of either route.

"We must ensure that current and future businesses have efficient access onto N.C. 24 and U.S. 40 and that the county has the ability to create an economic development zone," Brinkley told the commissioners.

This zone would be similar to the one along U.S. 95 in Smithfield and would allow for new businesses, increased area development and an increased tax base.

It also would benefit Sampson County.

"If it goes two miles back into Sampson County, that's OK. It doesn't bother us as long as it's also in Duplin County. We all got to work together," Brinson said.

There is one obstacle, however.

The interchange is currently slated to be zoned controlled access. To create the economic zone, DOT would have to allow it be zoned limited access.

But, Brinson said, DOT is "receptive to discussing it."

The counties' joint plan must be presented to DOT by Oct. 20. Other public comments are due to DOT by Wednesday.