04/27/07 — Johnson County officials like the idea, but won't commit money to U.S. 70 coalition

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Johnson County officials like the idea, but won't commit money to U.S. 70 coalition

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on April 27, 2007 1:45 PM

Johnston County has said it will not be part of a coalition designed to have a say in the future of the U.S. 70 Corridor.

When the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission began working to get the highway higher on the state's funding priorities, members agreed that local governments along the four-lane needed "one vision, one voice," to be successful.

But in the year since the commission formed, one voice has been absent from the meetings and decision-making process -- Johnston County's.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith, who helped spearhead the formation of the group, said he hopes Johnston leaders will eventually see the benefits of their county becoming a member.

"We've never been given an official position, and I'm puzzled by it. We think they have just as much to gain from it. Even though they have a lot of momentum with the Clayton bypass, they still have a lot of highway with access issues," Smith said.

Smith is nearing the completion of an analysis of the group's work over the past year and its plans for the next year. Some of the accomplishments include creating a Web site, developing an access management study and developing a coordinated strategy with the state Department of Transportation. Next year, commission members are looking to create a corridor master plan and to continue access management projects, such as the directional crossover built at U.S. 70 East and Beston Road.

After seeing the results of the first year's work, Smith said he hopes Johnston officials will see why they should join the commission's efforts.

But Johnston officials have indicated no desire to do so. Not that they aren't interested in seeing the commission succeed, but they don't see how their county will benefit from being a part of the commission.

"The board chose not to be a paying partner," Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said. "It's not negative or adversarial. We just have funds tied up in other organizations."

Last year, Wayne, Lenoir, Craven and Carteret counties each contributed at least $20,000 to help pay for a consultant to lead the project. The cities of Goldsboro and Kinston, along with the Eastern Region development organization, also pledged their financial support. All will be asked for more money as the project enters its second year.

Hester said he understands the need for the U.S. 70 Commission, but Johnston is heavily involved, physically and monetarily, in the local rural transportation planning organization, the Capital Area Metropolitan Organization and its own challenges with U.S. 70.

One of those challenges is the completion of the Clayton bypass, Johnston Commission Chairman Cookie Pope said. But each passing day marks more progress for the project.

Wendi Johnson, NCDOT division construction engineer, said the Clayton bypass's original schedule called for the project to be 30 percent complete by this stage, but thanks to fair weather and skilled crews, she said it is 65 percent complete.

That success makes the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission less of a priority, Mrs. Pope said.

"Speaking for myself, I'm satisfied with the new 70 bypass. At some point in time, we may join, but we've had a good working relationship with DOT and we're happy with what we've got," she said.

But Smith said he believes the work being done by the commission could be part of the reason progress is being made in Johnston. With a majority of the entities along the corridor supporting the same cause, commission members have said they believe state transportation officials are seeing that supporting U.S. 70 is a worthwhile effort.

And although Johnston hasn't put local dollars into the project, Hester said the county does support the commission's efforts.

"Just because we're not involved doesn't mean we don't think it's important," he said.