09/02/07 — Officials say Clayton bypass will help Wayne economy

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Officials say Clayton bypass will help Wayne economy

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 2, 2007 2:01 AM

The U.S. 70 bypass around Clayton is a year ahead of schedule, state transportation officials say -- and that might mean Wayne County will profit from it sooner.

Although funding hasn't come yet for similar construction around Goldsboro, officials here have high financial hopes for Clayton's westbound bypass.

A quickened pace in Clayton won't speed up proposed similar construction around Goldsboro, Wayne County Manager W. Lee Smith said.

But he and Joanna Thompson of the Wayne County Development Alliance think that Clayton's bypass could offer Wayne County more opportunities for industry and jobs.

"The Clayton Bypass is really a more important asset to us because we can get around Clayton to other markets toward the west," Mrs. Thompson said.

Corey McLamb, an N.C. Department of Transportation official helping to oversee the Clayton project, says it's ahead of schedule. The project was originally slated for completion in June 2009.

"We're probably looking at June of 2008, somewhere in that ballpark, or fall of 2008," McLamb said. "Maybe a year ahead of schedule."

The four-lane, divided highway means immediate impact on the Clayton area, spurring growth in its already fast-growing western regions.

But Clayton bypass completion also spells good news for Wayne County, its county manager says. Smith also sits on the "Super 70," or U.S. 70 Corridor Commission.

That commission "envisions converting the corridor to a full freeway," by replacing traffic signals and interchanges on the roads.

Smith said it's not just getting to the westerly markets -- it's also feeling their economic successes in a tangible way.

"All of sudden, say we've cut that drive time by 15 minutes, let's say that may be the straw that broke the camel's back on whether they locate here.

"The Clayton Bypass, when you're talking about industry, talking about getting into RTP faster -- spinoff industries, should they spring up, may locate here," Smith said.

The Super 70 Commission -- of which Johnston County is noticeably absent, although officials have said the county might join 'in the future, manages a large regional concern, Smith said.

And the proposed Goldsboro bypass of U.S. 70 will also play a big role in keeping Goldsboro a location open for business, the county manager said.

"We're kind of a pass-through," on the way to the beach, Smith said. "We get accused of trying to get beach traffic -- it's not about that.

"I think if things get too congested, people will bypass our region," Smith said. "We will become a dead zone if we're not careful because of congestion."

The U.S. 70 Corridor Commission is made of a hodgepodge of officials from Carteret, Craven, Lenoir, Wayne, and supporting member Jones County.

One crucial piece, both Smith and and Mrs. Thompson said, is making sure the stretches of 70 don't get too many at-grade crossings -- or any at all.

At-grade traffic crossings are spots where connecting roads might try to cross U.S. 70, where motorists often cruise at 65 mph, Smith said.

Smith said he was involved in a near fatal accident on N.C. 55 between Bayboro and New Bern in 1987. A motorist tried to cross in front of him.

"You get T-boned, people have been killed. They're very dangerous," the county manager said.

The U.S. 70 Corridor Commission -- which also acts as a semi-pro lobbying group, Smith said -- is getting more attention and starting to see some financial support from Raleigh legislation.

That could lead to projects to fix at-grade crossings and a problematic traffic light on U.S. 70 around the Wilson's Mills and Princeton area in Johnston County, Smith said.

Smith says the Corridor Commission can't tell any community what to do.

But it is passing out access management handbooks, which will encourage member counties to adopt "similar land protection and development plans," Smith said.

"Instead of having 1,100 driveways coming out of a development, have a centralized driveway that is controlled," Smith said. "We developed one concept for (U.S.) 70 for interstate-quality highway from Raleigh to the coast."