By Wesley Brown
The Daily Reflector
Saturday, March 2
A $300 million, 100-mile Interstate loop proposal to connect airports, medical centers, industry and college campuses in eastern North Carolina was recognized by state legislators last week as a way to promote regional growth.
Developed by Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, the highway system is being branded as the foundation of “Quad East,” a cooperative network of communities united to give the coastal plain a competitive economic advantage, much like the alliances formed in the Piedmont Triad, Research Triangle and Charlotte Metro areas.
The Greenville City Council plans to take the lead on Thursday by passing a resolution in support of the measure, with the hope that municipalities and boards of commissioners in Pitt, Greene, Lenoir, Wilson, Nash and Wayne counties will follow in March and April.
The step is being called transformational, as representatives from across the region, some of whom have already pledged their support, plan to watch at City Hall as the council signs the resolution.
“Everybody stands to benefit,” Thomas said of the movement in a telephone interview last week. “The enthusiasm about working together as a region is a very significant step and connecting transportation corridors is the key building block to making economic opportunity a reality.”
Thomas said every step involved in developing the initiative is going to take a combined effort, a requirement state Sen. Louis Pate said has been “pretty well received” by his fellow delegates, whose districts cover Pitt County.
Pate hosted the mayor, City Manager Barbara Lipscomb and city attorney Dave Holec in his Raleigh office on Feb. 20 to discuss Greenville’s 2013 legislative initiatives.
The meeting lasted more than an hour, with area senator Don Davis and N.C. representatives Susan Martin, Brian Brown and Jean Farmer-Butterfield attending to help seek new revenue sources for the city, support the state Department of Transportation’s equity formula and continue funding for regional economic development, as requested by council.
Pate said the Quad East concept was introduced by Thomas and the group had a “good exchange” about the details of the plan, which includes an estimated $75 million in federal upgrades to N.C. 11 and U.S. highways 70 and 264 and the use of Kinston’s Harvey Parkway and Interstate 795 in Goldsboro to connect East Carolina University and Vidant Medical Center with the Global Trans-Park and Seymour Johnson Air Force.
“We were pleased to see Greenville was at the forefront of the pack and excited to hear they are making some cooperative plans with other communities in the area,” Pate said.
The mayor sent a thank you letter to each of the legislators two days later, expressing appreciation on behalf of the City Council for the representative’s willingness to discuss and consider all initiatives, which he felt would “enhance the ability of the city to meet its citizens needs.”
Lipscomb said this week in council economic development subcommittee meetings she felt the conversation had lots of promise.
“Over time, hopefully we will see more regional cooperation and the development of initiatives that will move us all together toward significant economic growth,” Lipscomb said.
Pate agreed with the manager’s assessment.
“I think that (highway infrastructure) is one of the things that has held us back economically,” the senator said. “We should be providing the infrastructure that is necessary so that business can develop.”
Pitt County and Greenville leaders are not the only ones who are supporting the concept.
District engineers with the state Department of Transportation have given positive feedback. Plus, Ayden Mayor Steve Tripp, Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy and Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety have committed as “major players,” Thomas said.
“The Quad East concept of bringing the Interstate through Pitt and Lenoir counties and connecting it to existing Interstates in Wilson and Wayne counties could be the single-most effective way of growing eastern North Carolina in the next 20 to 30 years,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who attended a follow-up meeting in Greenville last week on the measure, said the only thing on which he is waiting feedback before the Kinston City Council adopts a resolution in full support of the idea is North Carolina Senate Bill 127.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Jacksonville, would establish seven administrative districts across North Carolina, in which regional offices of the state departments of transportation and environment and natural resources would be consolidated to create a one-stop source for citizens and businesses needing assistance.
“I am in full support as long as it does not interfere with the bill,” Murphy said of Quad East.
“The concept is fantastic,” Murphy said. “The idea of finally getting an Interstate shield from the N.C. Global Trans-Park in Kinston to East Carolina University and Vidant Health in Greenville; to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro and the Wilson County Agricultural Center would be a major benefit to the region.”
Interstate 795 is already in full swing. The Goldsboro Bypass on U.S. 70 connecting La Grange to Wayne County is under construction. Kinston’s Harvey Parkway is halfway complete. And the Southwestern Bypass, a $226 million state-funded highway between Greenville and Ayden, is on the drawing board and could be accelerated.
“It is very real to think this project could be completed in the next 10 to 15 years,” Murphy said.