MOREHEAD CITY — The U.S. 70 Corridor Commission announced plans for a study that would look at economic development impacts of a four-lane, freeway bypass system from Raleigh to the coast.
“This analysis has extraordinary implications for the economic development of counties along these highway corridors,” said Durwood Stephenson, commission chairman.
Cambridge Systematics has been hired for the study, for which the N.C. Department of Transportation is paying $225,000 plus an additional, and as yet undetermined, cost for the conversion of N.C. 117 to Interstate 795 from Goldsboro to I-40.
Jim Martin, former state governor when the Highway Trust Fund was established, said the fund was created to handle such projects.
“It was the Highway Trust Fund’s ambition that by now 90 percent of the population would be within 10 minutes of a freeway,” Martin said. “We hope to recognize that in some of your lifetimes. But it’s been complicated. Progress is awfully easy to block.”
Martin said he drove the route from Morrisville to Carteret Community College where the study was announced, saying the frequent traffic signals were inefficient, costly and unhealthy for business and travel.
“Industries need to get products to market and need a four-lane road to get to the Interstate,” he said.
As for businesses currently on the route that rely on the traffic, Martin said, “the same highway that spurred travel to this area now is congesting it. I believe we can solve that if you want it and are willing to work for it.”
The analysis will look at the current corridor status, all areas of economic development and ask about impediments to business recruitment and retention. It will also look at the impacts of completing U.S. 70 corridor bypasses and what is positive, and what steps are needed to mitigate any harm to retail merchants.
“Think about the economic future of Eastern North Carolina,” Martin said. “Do we want progress and growth or do we want it to stay like it is? I’m sure there are mixed feelings. Here’s the deal if you want economic development and jobs.”
Martin encouraged participation in the process.
“Look at this study critically and speak as boldly and forcefully as you can to get it done,” he said. “If you have a problem, see a problem, let them know about it. We don’t want surprises. We don’t want to be in the middle of construction and find out something we forgot to think about.”
The N.C. Department of Transportation has already scheduled construction of a U.S. 70 bypass of Havelock to begin in 2015.