02/15/13 — Group looks at U.S. 117 upgrade

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Group looks at U.S. 117 upgrade

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 15, 2013 1:46 PM

A feasibility study looking into what would be necessary to upgrade U.S. 117 to freeway or even interstate standards has been slowed by personnel changes at the Eastern Carolina Rural Planning Organization, but is still scheduled to be completed by the end of the fiscal year.

Jennifer Collins, Goldsboro senior planner, Thursday told a meeting of the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization that no public meetings or kickoff meeting for the study have been held.

However, Mrs. Collins said RPO officials have assured her the study continues to move forward.

Upgrades to the highway would focus on the elimination of driveways and at-grade intersections that would be replaced by overpasses and interchanges.

The study was announced at the MPO's August meeting.

The idea is to start at Interstate 40 in Duplin County and move north examining how far apart interchanges would be; which roads would be overpasses; which roads would be closed off completely; what additional improvements would be necessary; and whether secondary roads or service roads would be needed to ensure motorists can get to those interchanges and across the highway.

"It is really just a feasibility study to look at improvements to 117 from south of Goldsboro, 795, all the way down to I-40," said Wayne County Planner Connie Price, chairman of the MPO staff level Technical Communicating Committee. "It is already four-lane all of the way currently, but it is not built to freeway standards. It is looking at the possibility of improving that road through bridges, eliminating stoplights, widening shoulders.

"What they will be doing is involving property owners along the route, those who may have driveways out to 117 now to resolve their concerns. Once all of this is done then it would run through the process of coming back to this group before going on to the various approval processes that any project goes through to try and get done."

Goldsboro Councilman Chuck Allen, chairman of the MPO's decision-making Technical Advisory Committee, said he is already receiving phone calls from people living along U.S. 117 who are concerned about losing their driveways.

"I think that is important to let all of the people on existing 117 know this is just something that we are looking at," Allen said. "It is a planning document and is no action. So I think we need to be careful what we put out there."

That is correct, Price said.

Initially the study would just say whether the project is feasible and "this is how much we think it would cost," Price said.

Allen asked if it was more of access management tool as opposed to the future extension of I-795.

"That would be a part of it to continue 795 down to I-40," Price said.

"We did that study five or six years ago," Allen said.

The scope of that study was confined to within the MPO boundary that ends at Dudley, Price said. That is why the RPO will handle the new study since that part of the highway is outside of the MPO, he said.

The new study is necessary because over time rules change, property is developed, bought and sold, so what might have been feasible five or six years ago might not be today, officials said.

"I just want everybody to understand that this is just a study," Allen said.

"That is correct. There is no funding. Nobody is going to be out there with a bulldozer next week," Price said.

Former Wayne County commissioner Andy Anderson said that the state had said at the time of the previous study that the probability of going down the old U.S. 117 past the fairgrounds would be virtually impossible because of the railroad, wetlands and other issues.

Also, it would be difficult to close sections of the road while work was going on since it is the main north-south highway through the county, he said.

"They are looking at putting a lot of money into it to fix it up, the old road," Anderson said. "My question is how much are we going to spend trying to fix up the old road temporarily?"

Allen said he didn't think that not using the existing U.S. 117 to extend I-795 has changed.

"It was too expensive five years ago. It is still going to be too expensive today," Allen said. "I guess once somebody gets a plan and (Department of Transportation Division 4 engineer) John's (Rouse) crowd puts numbers to it then somebody will look at it."

Rouse, too, said he did not foresee the need for a new location for the road to change.

"I still think that is what is going to come out of this study again, because it is not going to be feasible to go through 117," he said. "Now once you get down south of O'Berry Road it is a lot easier to do that."

Rouse said the DOT is required to look at possibly upgrading an existing road before considering a new route. However, 98 percent time using an existing road is "thrown out" because it is too expensive and displaces businesses and residents.

That is what happened with the new U.S. 70 Bypass, Price said.

Looking at the cost associated with replacing bridges, adding lanes and buying out businesses it was more feasible to build the new bypass around the city than upgrade the old one, he said.