A Slocum Gate “flyover” at the Cherry Point to move U.S. 70 East traffic onto or by the base “is a fact,” said N.C. Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata on Tuesday in New Bern.
DOT has appeared to be looking favorably on that overpass project in Havelock and on beginning work on the long-awaited four-lane U.S. 17 bypass in Jones County from Pollocksville to Jacksonville.
But many questioned whether the two projects would survive the “Strategic Mobility Formula” for allocating highway money that’s been proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory in Raleigh.
Tata made the flyover’s prospects clear after his fact-gathering trip Tuesday. Tata, a retired Army brigadier general, toured Cherry Point with N.C. Board of Transportation Hugh Overholt of New Bern, Malcolm Fearing of Manteo, Ferrell Blount of Bethel and John Lennon of Wilmington.
After a luncheon meeting with regional leaders hosted by the Highway 17 Association, Tata spoke at New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, outlining the funding formula that has passed the N.C. House of Representatives and, with some changes, awaits a final N.C. Senate vote.
He said there would be an estimated $6.4 billion for state highways in the next 10 years, $1.2 billion less than the last decade. The plan would divide it with 40 percent for statewide projects and 30 percent each for regional and division projects.
But Tata said both the U.S. 70 and U.S. 17 projects could be funded from state or regional project money because they figure into “the governor’s number one goal to leverage infrastructure to catalyze the economy.”
He took public questions, including one from John L. Simmons of Pollocksville, who said he’s been hearing for 32 years that U.S. 17 would be four lanes from Maine to Florida and wants to know “when are you going to start in Jones County.”
Simmons said those people in the proposed path of the road want to know when to find a new place to live.
Tom Thompson of NC 20 said, “The Highway 17 Association started in 1977. We’ve waited a long time and are not there yet.”
Tata said, “I understand your frustration,” and tapped Division 2 Engineer Neil Lassiter for details.
Lassiter said, “design changes initiated by public input” at a Pollocksville hearing last year caused a slight delay. But the project is funded, right-of-way acquisition begins next month and construction is scheduled to begin in 2015.
Tata said completing the other sections of U.S. 17 in North Carolina, including one from Vanceboro to New Bern, is consistent with the current state leadership’s position that “this section of North Carolina has been underserved and holds the key to growing the economic potential of the whole state.”
He assured former transportation board member Bob Mattocks that the new formula would not further delay U.S. 17 projects and assured Rob Will of Eastern Carolina RPO that ports funding would be protected by their density of defense-oriented projects.
Facilitating the people and freight connected to Eastern North Carolina’s large military presence makes it score even higher under the new mobility formula, he said.
“I just hired New Bern native Rudy Lupton, a retired Navy captain, as director of logistics for the GTP and two ports,” Tata said, emphasizing his concentration on roads to access employment, tourism venues, medical facilities and higher education facilities.