09/25/09 — Officials: U.S. 70 bypass can't wait until 2035

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Officials: U.S. 70 bypass can't wait until 2035

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 25, 2009 1:46 PM

The U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass is too critical to the county and eastern North Carolina to be left to linger unfinished until sometime after 2035, Commissioner Jack Best said.

In addition, if the consultants in charge of updating the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization's (MPO) long-range transportation plan (LRTP) don't understand that then it is time to find ones that will, he said. If funding is at issue, then they need to be looking for innovative ways to secure the money for the project, he said.

Best made his displeasure and concerns known during the Thursday morning meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee (the MPO voting arm). Representatives of Kimley-Horn, the firm updating the LRTP, had just concluded their presentation, which includes a U.S. 70 Bypass still incomplete in 2035.

"I have a real problem," Best said. "I know money is tight, but for you to even suggest the Goldsboro Bypass won't be completed by 2035 is ridiculous. If you think that, then we should change consultants.

"That is our No. 1 project."

However, it is not worth anything to anybody if it is not finished, he said.

Best said Spirit Aviation being built at the Global TransPark in Kinston is a major industrial development for the area. It is one of several that will benefit eastern North Carolina and underscores the need for the U.S. 70 Bypass to be completed.

It is critical, Best said, that the people in Raleigh be made to grasp the road's significance to eastern North Carolina.

"We have go to get that across to them," he said.

Alison Fluitt, a consultant with Kimley-Horn, responded that the process is charged by the federal government to consider the financial constraints being worked under.

That prompted Best to say the consultants needed to be looking for extra money.

"We need to separate the bypass from all of this stuff (plan projects)," he said.

Wayne County, he said, is surrounded by 20 of the poorest counties in the state and that as such "this bypass should be pulled out and made a special project."

It is needed so that people can better get to jobs, he said.

Ms. Fluitt said the plan's language could be revised to make the case for that suggestion and to hopefully convince the state of the project's regional importance.

"If we would try to fund the entire U.S. 70, it would mean we would have no money for other projects whatsoever," she said.

"Everything depends on that highway," MPO chairman and Goldsboro Mayor Pro-Tem Chuck Allen said. "I think Jack is right. I think what he is trying to say is that Highway 70 needs to be its own entity. Is there a way to do that in your report? The fact is it does affect all of eastern North Carolina.

"We are just trying to figure out how to get Highway 70 to Raleigh. It already is a strategic corridor, but we want it to be more. We want it to say you know the port relies on this. Cherry Point relies on this. So if in your report you could use some of that. That is what we are trying to do. U.S. 70 is our lifeline."

Best then made a motion to approve the long range transportation plan with amendments including wording that the U.S. 70 Bypass is a regional project and to find funding within the next 10 years to complete it.

Allen also questioned if there were other options to explore, such as interchanges, that could provide some relief while the area waits on the completion of the bypass.

Specifically, he suggested that the MPO's 2009-15 needs list be amended to include interchanges on existing U.S. 70 Bypass at Oak Forest Road (at Park East) and at N.C. 111 since neither of those two roads will tie into the new bypass.

The interchanges could help provide some traffic relief, he said.

Ricky Greene, N.C. Department of Transportation Division 4 engineer, agreed that was "not a bad idea." Including the interchanges would not mean they will be built, but does get them into the plan.

"Funding is the issue, it is killing us across the state," Greene said.

One project, widening Royall Avenue from Wayne Memorial Drive to the U.S. 13/U.S. 70 Bypass, was dropped from the needs list.

Allen said that project had been talked about for years, but that he does not think it will ever be done because of the railroad right-of-way issue.

The top project continues to be the new U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass. Work is under way on the section between Wayne Memorial Dive and Interstate 795.

The remainder of the project is broken down into three phases -- Section A from existing U.S. 70 west of N.C. 581 to Interstate 795; Section BB from Wayne Memorial Drive and the new U.S. 70 Bypass to east of Parkstown Road; and Section C from east of Parkstown Road to U.S. 70 at Promise Lane Road near LaGrange.

Alex Rickard, of the Eastern Carolina Rural Planning Organization, questioned why Section A was rated ahead of Section C. Rickard said that Section C would open up the eastern part of the state.

He was told that without the other two sections that it would be a road connected to nothing. Also, Section A would open up development in the northern part of the county.

In other changes, the board agreed to lump an interchange at U.S. 117 and N.C. 581 with the proposed new U.S. 117 south. Allen said that the interchange probably could not be built until the alignment had been settled on for U.S. 117 South.

The board also bumped the realignment of Central Heights Road at Berkeley Boulevard and Royall Avenue from ninth to six on he list.

Other projects, most involving highway upgrades and widening, in descending order are:

* New Hope Road from Central Heights Road to Millers Chapel Road

* U.S. 1117 (North William Street) from U.S. 117/U.S. 70 Bypass to Belfast Road

* Ash Street (U.S. 70 Business) from Berkeley Boulevard east to the existing U.S. 70 Bypass

* Berkeley Boulevard from New Hope Road to Hood Swamp Road

* U.S. 13 North from Hood Swamp Road to Greene County line.

The board approved the amended needs list.

The long range transportation plan update is federally mandated every five years and the comprehensive transportation plan update is required by the state. It includes a series of maps showing the recommendations for the different modes of transportation that hopefully would be implemented at some point. Goldsboro, Walnut Creek, which is included in the MPO, and the county approve the plan and use it as a guide.

The plan looks at transportation on two fronts -- the first is short range, what can be afforded by 2020. The second is further out, 2035.

The process got under way in March and included public workshops in April, June and July to gather public input.