03/01/12 — Planes, trains, autos and the future

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Planes, trains, autos and the future

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 1, 2012 1:46 PM

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Scott Saylor, president of the North Carolina Railroad Co., points to a chart showing railroad growth in the region at the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Transportation/ Logistics Forum at Goldsboro Country Club.

No new roads were paved or even planned during Wednesday's Transportation/Logistics Forum. Rather, speakers used the time to review current and future plans and to drive home that partnerships will be vital to future transportation projects as they compete for a limited pot of money.

Sponsored by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and held at the Goldsboro Country Club, the forum took a "planes, trains and automobiles" approach to transportation needs.

Goldsboro City Manager Scott Stephens and County Manager Lee Smith reviewed ongoing local projects and looked at future efforts. Both agreed that transportation in the county is about one thing -- partnerships.

It takes those partnerships to get things done, Smith said.

"It is about access. It is about mobility. It is about safety," Smith said. "It is about bringing investments to our community. It is about economic development. It is about safety, but the partnership is the large part."

It was a message shared by the other speakers on the platform, including Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Trogdon said he was given three missions when he took over at the DOT: rebuild public trust, be the very best steward of existing resources and develop a vision where the state should go with regard to transportation.

"It was reinforced to me that we don't want this to be a DOT vision. We want it to be a state of North Carolina vision," he said.

One of the first steps was to develop a prioritization process, he said. It also was important to realize that no single transportation solution would fit every area of the state. As such, the DOT vision has switched somewhat from stateside to more area-focused, he said.

Trogdon said he values the partnership with local Metropolitan and Rural Planning Organizations. He said he also looks for local, state and federal intergovernmental partnerships, as well as interagency and industrial partners. Those partnerships will be "extremely important" to the future including developing the state's ports, he said.

Not surprisingly, U.S. 70 garnered a lot of attention.

"I think that we all know that U.S. 70 is the center of commerce in eastern North Carolina," said Durwood Stephenson, executive director of the Highway 70 Corridor Commission. "What we are about at the Corridor Commission isn't just about a particular road, we are about eastern North Carolina -- improving all of eastern North Carolina. I noticed riding in that you have a sign at the county line that says 'industry, agriculture, military.'

"Those are the things, not just for Wayne County, but that make eastern North Carolina go. I think agriculture is about a $70 billion impact, military about a $9 billion annual impact. So those are major industrial and commercial engines in eastern North Carolina that we need to preserve."

The commission's goal is to create a freeway between Raleigh and the coast and to reduce the number of the stoplights that hinder traffic on the highway, he said. The commission currently is working to remove stoplights at Wilson's Mills, Pine Level and Princeton.

Some people even dare to dream and speak in "quiet whispers" of it being an interstate highway, he said.

Originally the Goldsboro U.S. 70 Bypass project wasn't scheduled for completion until about 2035, he said. It has taken an unanticipated 20-year jump that will see the project completed in 2015.

"I am certainly aware of the support and leadership Wayne County gave to the Clayton Bypass in Johnston County, which is my home, and now it is our turn to support you," Stephenson said.

That spirit of partnership has taken another step forward, he said.

"One thing we have been able to do on the Corridor Commission and I know Jim Trogdon came down and met with us several months ago," Stephenson said. "He said, 'If you folks will all get together down here in the east we will find the money for your projects.' What we have had in the past is that every RPO and every MPO would have 20, 25 projects.

"We were scattered so thin that we never ranked high enough to get projects funded and that was part of our dilemma. We were able to bring all of the RPOs and MPOs together as one accord and they signed off on a priority of seven projects. They all involve connectivity, freeway status and a lot of them connect to the military, which was a priority for all of us."

Local projects tend to be controversial at first, but when it is demonstrated to people that it makes the road safer, improves mobility, so that traffic and goods can move, then people better understand, he said.

Scott Saylor, president of the N.C. Railroad Co., provided a history of the company.

The county and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base are important to the railroad, he said, adding that he foresees rail being more important in the next 10 years than it has been over the past 40 years.

The comeback has been sparked by better efficiency and also because of increasing fuel prices that make rail a less-expensive way to ship goods, he said.

Goldsboro and Wayne County is unique because both CSX and the N.C. Railroad Co. cross each other in the county.

However, asked about the feasibility of an inland port distribution center in the area, Saylor said that would be of more interest to CSX and as such would be more north-south, along I-95, instead of east-west.

One local project that will be under way this year is an almost $1 million project to replace the rail bridge over the Little River.

Also in about three weeks, Norfolk Southern which has an agreement with North Carolina Railroad to use the tracks, will begin a major renovation of tracks west of town to Selma. Goldsboro and east to Morehead City was done years ago.