10/10/08 — U.S. 70 bypass ground broken

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U.S. 70 bypass ground broken

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 10, 2008 1:46 PM

Wyche Ray remembers when what is now Wayne Memorial Drive was a washboard road where he once caught bootleggers on his farm not far from the site where the new U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass will be built.

Thursday, Ray, who stormed Omaha Beach during theD-Day invasion, was among a small group on hand for the ceremonial groundbreaking for the first section of the new bypass -- something Ray said he didn't think he would ever see.

"I didn't really expect it, no," he said. "But it should have been built 20 years, and we wouldn't be in the depressed area we are in today because industries need an outlet onto Interstate 95 in a hurry."

Ray, who said his age was "87 plus," said he plans to be back for the ribbon-cutting when the road opens at the end of December 2011.

"It's only 2008 and when I had my triple-bypass surgery, the doctor said I would be good for another five to 10 years," Ray said. "I said make it 15 to 20 and I will buy it. I am looking forward to driving on the road."

The section of the bypass, expected to cost $65.5 million, stretches 3.9 miles from west of Interstate 795 to just east of Wayne Memorial Drive with interchanges to be built at Interstate 795, U.S. 117 and Wayne Memorial Drive.

It is part of a planned four-lane divided highway from Clayton to the coast. The local bypass, expected to cost about $234 million, is to be built in four phases starting at N.C. 581 northwest of Goldsboro and tying back into the existing U.S. 70 near Promise Land Road in Lenoir County.

The local project also includes a "retrofit" of the existing U.S. 70 to make safety improvements.

The section was not the original choice for the initial construction, Division 4 engineer Ricky Greene said. And the bypass will not suffer from the broken pavement that has been a problem on Interstate 795, he said.

Greene said he could not recall which section had been the first choice to start construction, but that he thought it was one of the eastern ones.

The decision to change sections was a local one, he said.

"I think when they realized with the funding that we couldn't do it all at one time, that we'd have to do it piecemeal, they reconsidered and said 'you know that looks like a better piece as far as getting it done first and having an impact,'" Greene said. "It would have a stronger impact than doing the other section.

"This particular section, just four miles, is an important one because it ties 795 over to Wayne Memorial Drive and has interchanges at U.S. 117 so you have three real busy routes connected together.

"Folks in the central part of the county and in Goldsboro will have quicker access to  Interstate 95 and to Johnston County. That is a plus. I am just really looking forward to the ultimate benefit of having that 21-mile stretch (of the Goldsboro Bypass) open."

Greene said the new road should not suffer from the same problems that required patching Interstate 795 even though it had only been open to traffic for a short time.

"Barnhill is good contractor, well-regarded throughout state," he said. "We have a good contract, we have a good contractor and good construction inspection staff. I don't see any reason we should have any problems on this project. The depth of asphalt is based on projected traffic and we are anticipating higher levels of traffic on this section than we did I-795, so you will find the asphalt is substantially thicker on this project."

Greene said right-of-way acquisition is ongoing on three of the four phases. The exception is the western end were the bypass ties into N.C. 581.

Currently, the first phase is the only one that has been funded.

Right-of-way acquisition on the segment from N.C. 581 to Interstate 795 began in Jan. 2006. Construction is scheduled to start in 2017. That section would tie into the project now under way. Right-of-way for the section just east of the one under construction is not scheduled to begin until 2019. No date has been set for construction to start. Acquisition of right-of-way on the final segment to tie back into U.S. at Lenoir County began in Sept. 2002. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016.

"It (bypass) is a very high priority within the division," Greene said.

"We are looking forward to the day when we have the full 21 miles completed," he said. "It is going to mean a lot to eastern North Carolina in terms of future development, keeping sort of the heart of eastern North Carolina open with the free flow of traffic."

Greene said the state will need roads to handle the state's anticipated growth.

"U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass, $236 million, 20 miles, doesn't that sound great," Dan DeVane, chief operating officer for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said during the ceremony. "This  section will be built to interstate standards and ultimately stretch from N.C. 581 in Wayne County to Promise Land Road in Lenoir County."

The bypass, he said, will make it easier for people commuting between counties and between Raleigh and Morehead City.

"It is a great thing for the whole section of state," DeVane said. "In addition to providing better connectivity, it also will create new opportunities for economic development. Today is much more than this section of road, it is about transforming the mobility of this entire region."

He praised local officials for "staying the course."

"With the hard economic times that we have, to be building roads like this we are very fortunate," he said. "Folks, to see banks almost closing their doors and us building a highway like this, it is a major milestone for this whole state."

The project, he said, is the second of seven planned to improve travel between Raleigh and Morehead City.

Earlier this year, the $123 million Clayton Bypass opened. In December, the state plans to seek bids for the Crescent Road project that spans four miles and will connect U.S. 70 to N.C. 258 in Lenoir County. Construction is expected to begin in February.

"I feel like we ought to call this (ceremony) off since Sen. (John) Kerr isn't here," DeVane said. "I have had more calls from Sen. Kerr (who is recovering from knee surgery) about traffic lights on U.S. 70 than any man in the whole state. Every time I pick up the phone, it is Sen. Kerr fussing about another traffic light on 70. Sen. John Kerr did push hard to get those traffic lights off of 70."

Goldsboro Mayor Al King said the road "is the beginning of something we have been looking forward to in eastern North Carolina for a long time."

"It's here and I can tell you this is the beginning of something big," he said. "We have to work to make sure eastern North Carolina reaches its greatest and maximum potential and there is a lot of potential."

County Commission Chairman Bud Gray said the county was "happy for this  long-time awaited occasion to begin construction."

He added, "This bypass is important to the citizens of Wayne County. A highway is a road intended for travel by the public between important  destinations. As impressive as it is, it creates a new pathway to future development for our people. It connects us to a network of other roads, highways and intestates making us part of something better."

Gray said the construction is part of the county's efforts to raise living standards.