01/19/07 — Members say they try to avoid U.S. 70 stoplights, too

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Members say they try to avoid U.S. 70 stoplights, too

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 19, 2007 1:48 PM

Members of a commission created to improve U.S. 70 admit they look for alternative routes whenever possible to avoid the traffic and stoplights on the existing highway.

The U.S. 70 Corridor Commission met Thursday afternoon in Goldsboro to discuss objectives for the year. The commission was formed to boost efforts to improve the east-west corridor.

Most members of the commission said that when they travel to Raleigh they now prefer to take the new four-lane U.S. 117 north to Wilson, then turn west onto U.S. 264. Although the trip is longer, it takes less time because of the lack of stoplights and the fact that much of the way the speed limit is 70 mph.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith and county Commissioner Atlas Price said they go that way and save time.

Other commission members said driving to the coast from Raleigh is easier by taking U.S. 264 to Greenville, getting on N.C. 11 south to Kinston and then getting onto U.S. 70 east near Lenoir Community College. That route avoids the traffic lights in Clayton and Goldsboro, they pointed out.

Commission members said it is vital to the economy of the region to improve the existing highway and push for an interstate-quality, 70-mph freeway along the entire 134-mile corridor from Clayton to Morehead City.

"People are detouring and, if we don't do something, it will start losing traffic," Smith said.

Members began work Thursday on ideas they hope will help the group gain leverage with state highway administrators.

Kimley-Horn consultant Michael Rutkowski, who was hired by the commission to help change U.S. 70 from a mostly 55-mph highway with more than 60 stop lights to a freeway, said the group needs to build momentum.

"We haven't really moved forward in the past month or the last two months," Rutkowski said.

One of the chief goals is to develop land-use measures in the counties and municipalities along the route to protect the bypasses that are being planned for. The state Department of Transportation has long-range plans to build new bypasses at several points, including one that would run almost the entire east-west length of Wayne County, north of the existing highway. The commission currently consists of Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, Craven and Carteret counties, along with the municipalities adjacent to the highway.

Rutkowski said each entity involved in the commission will need to sign a memorandum of understanding that describes the need for inter-governmental cooperation in land-use planning. The document already has been signed by officials in Wayne and Craven counties and the city of Goldsboro.

Smith said he hopes the work accomplished last year and the goals set for this year will eventually become part of the state's strategic corridor plan. He said the commission would aim to get the U.S. 70 plan ranked among the most important statewide by DOT officials.

Transportation officials and commission members agreed Thursday that the group can work to that end by developing a pilot project to improve traffic conditions at some point along the highway. One such project is now being undertaken at the intersection of U.S. 70 and Beston Road in eastern Wayne County, where a new crossover is being built to help avoid accidents.

The locations that were considered for improvements included James City in Craven County, Peedin Road in Johnston County and Kornegay Road in Jones County.

Commission members agreed that any of the projects could be used as a model to show state transportation officials that improvements to the corridor is a viable solution for the future.

They said they plan to continue discussion of the potential projects at their next meeting on March 8 in New Bern.