02/15/09 — County planners want economic impact of roads studied

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County planners want economic impact of roads studied

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 15, 2009 2:00 AM

Everybody wants new highways designed for speed and safety, but in the rush to have them built, it is vital that their economic impact not be overlooked, Wayne County Planning Board members said last week.

For the past several months, the board has been examining the expected economic effect of the state and federal highways that criss-cross the county.

The issue surfaced Tuesday as the board considered the 2009-15 Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization transportation projects priority list, which has since been officially adopted.

The planning board had been asked for its input and endorsement of the 13-point plan, the top priority of which is the long-awaited new U.S. 70 Bypass.

"It is nice to go from point A to point B, but what are we going to have to give up to do that," said board chairman Chris Cox. "Businesses located on these (existing) roads because of traffic."

So the question, he continued, is what happens to these businesses when the traffic is taken away because of a new road.

"As a board member and county commissioner, I am concerned about the (U.S. 70 Bypass) interchanges," said Steve Keen. "Priority one is that we do all we can to enhance the interchanges on this project."

That, Keen said, is important for two reasons. One is to enhance the property value for residential or commercial development and the second is to create a means of producing sales tax revenue.

When county commissioners voted in 2006 to adopt the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission's recommendation on the U.S. 70 Bypass, they did so without an economic impact study, Keen noted.

The board endorsed the list as presented with one proviso -- a request that economic impact studies be done before work is started on any of the projects.

Keen said business people understand, and the county knows, how roads can have positive or negative affects on sales tax revenues. Keen made the motion to endorse the list and to add the economic impact studies request.

"I agree with Mr. Keen," Cox said.

Cox said it is important that while looking for roads that allow fast and safe travel, it's also important to understand any economic effect they may have.

"How can the county recoup those sales taxes for debt service," he said. "We do so at these (U.S. 70 Bypass) interchanges. The traffic from Raleigh to the beach, we want them to get off the road. We have to have the infrastructure to make it as an appealing place as possible to grab those tax dollars."

Studies would need to include speed, traffic and related data as well, he added.

The studies will be conducted as part of the projects the closer they move toward being built, county Planning Director Connie Price said.

Several priorities concern U.S. 117 -- including the highway's interchange at N.C. 581 that currently is an at-grade crossing with stoplights and partial realignment of U.S. 117 Bypass south.

"U.S. 117 has a tremendous amount of commercial property and it is imperative we do an economic analysis so that as we go through plans we know the impact it will have on our economy," Keen said.

Keen agreed with Cox about the need for zoning and a comprehensive land use plan for highway interchanges, and especially the need for access.

He noted the few such access points along I-795 between Goldsboro and Wilson County.

"Limited access is a big issue with the Department of Transportation," he said.

Price noted that only two of the 13 projects have funding -- the U.S. 70 Bypass and a computerized traffic signal system for the city.

"With DOT's lack of funding, priorities 11-12 probably will be a long time coming," Price said.

For example, the project involving improvements on Royall Avenue near Berkeley Boulevard is inside the railroad right-of-way. Just getting approval from the railroad company "will be a long time coming," he pointed out.

Rather than proceed with so many large costly projects, Price said smaller, less-expensive ones, such as a bike trail, could be built quicker.

"You can do a lot with $25,000 to $50,000 while you are waiting for that $25 million to come along," he said.

Other projects on the list include improvements to Ash Street, Central Heights Road, New Hope Road, Berkeley Boulevard, U.S. 13 North, and Wayne Memorial Drive.

The Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization is bounded by the town of Mount Olive to the south, town of Pikeville to the north, Lenoir County to the east, and Johnston County to the west.

The MPO is comprised of the city of Goldsboro, Wayne County, the village of Walnut Creek and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.