By Junious Smith III, Halifax Media Services
Published: Friday, May 16, 2014 at 20:59 PM.
KINSTON | Thursday’s U.S. 70 Corridor Commission meeting was more focused toward updates on the highway. The next meeting may be more centralized toward economic benefits — and sooner than what is expected.
Chairman Robin Comer said the next meeting was initially scheduled for July 17 in Morehead City, but due to the economic impact study going public in several weeks, the tentative date has been moved up to June 19. N.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce officials are expected to attend.
“The objective of this meeting was to stay updated,” Comer said. “I’m excited about how the progress is going and we’ll have the economic impact study coming out in four or five weeks, where the benefits the corridor provides economically can reflect in that. Highway 70 is the second best highway economically behind (Interstate) 40.”
John Rouse, the DOT Division 2 engineer for Kinston, said there will be a corridor design public hearing for the city slated for this year.
“It will happen in either late summer or early fall,” Rouse said. “We’ve also got a draft environmental impact statement which will come out in early 2015. We’re doing this so the public can study and comment, then we’ll take their information and make revisions where they’re necessary. We have a record of decision as to the route in 2016, and it is currently unfunded.”
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said one of the main reasons he attended the meeting was to learn about the progress of the Global TransPark.
“GTP is creating a tremendous opportunity, and we need to do anything we can at a local level to support its job creation efforts,” Murphy said. “For example, just (Wednesday), the Lenoir County transportation committee voted to make three of our top five priorities related to the quad-east interstate loop concept.”
Durwood Stephenson, director of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, said another significant focus is the crash rate, which is 465 percent greater than on I-40.
“We have a lot of bad accidents due to the traffic congestion,” Stephenson said. The crash data showed 28 U.S. 70 fatalities compared six on I-40 during the charted period.
“Our objective was to make Highway 70 a freeway,” he said. “It would be great to have it as an interstate, but that’s not sufficient at this time. We just want to reduce the congestion, which will lower the crash rate.”
Rouse also provided an update on the U.S. 70 Gallent’s Channel Bridge project in Carteret County for which piling driving is scheduled to begin in June and the bridge completed by 2018; the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass with the final Environmental Impact Study to be completed soon and right-of-way acquisition to begin in 2015; and the Slocum Road Interchange to Cherry Point air station, which is funded and work expected to begin in March 2017.
There was also a presentation in the meeting from Build N.C. Greer Beaty, one of the 501C4 lobbying organization’s founders, said the goal of Build N.C. is to be a strong advocate for transportation projects. Jim Trogdon, retired DOT chief deputy secretary, is a member of Build N.C. advisory board.
“We were just coming to let the committee know we exist, and we can be a voice in support,” Beaty said. “A project can be a long process, and there are so many factors are involved in it.”
Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety said he liked the overall vibe and chemistry of the board.
“It was a very positive meeting,” Daughety said. “We’ve got significant issues we need to deal with as far as funding is concerned, but this group is unified.”
Junious Smith III is a reporter for the Kinston Free Press. Sue Book of the Sun Journal in New Bern contributed to this report.