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Highway Improvements Planned For ENC

NC Department of Transportation

We detail the State Transportation Improvement Program which seeks to ease congestion at a local military base and complete the expansion of Highway 17 to a four lane between New Bern and Jacksonville.

Here in eastern North Carolina, we are all looking forward to long-promised road improvements.  Now, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is asking for public feedback on their latest State Transportation Improvement Program released December 4th. Over 1,000 projects are planned affecting every county. Sarah Finch has more.

Over the past year and a half, DOT has worked with the legislature and planning organizations to develop the 10 year plan. This draft document lists projects with full or partial funding and seeks to improve connectivity, reduce congestion and enhance safety. Nearly 1,100 projects, touching every transportation mode, are mentioned. From that long list are some major changes for commuters in eastern North Carolina.

Scheduled for construction next year, DOT proposes a fly-over interchange at the alternate entrance to Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station. This is not an airplane lane, but rather a system to accommodate automobile traffic that mitigates congestion and potential accidents. According to local Police, over the past year there have been 23 motor vehicle crashes at the intersection of Slocum Road and US 70, in the heart of Havelock.  City Commissioner & Mayor Pro-Tem Danny Walsh, says the current traffic pattern has averaged an accident every 8 days for the past 5 years and that the new fly-over interchange will greatly improve traffic flow.

 “The people coming from New Bern that are going into Cherry Point, will pull over towards the right, and go up and over and down into Cherry Point, eliminating the problem of turning left in front of traffic coming from Morehead City.”

When the fly-over ramp is in place, traffic should be able to pass at different heights without directly crossing any other vehicle stream. The undertaking is estimated to cost $28,000,000. 

A few of the projects taking place this year have been a long-time in the making. Widening Highway 17 to 4 lanes, from Maysville to Pollocksville, has been on the backburner for over 30 years. NCDOT Division 2 Engineer John Rouse says the project is estimated at $200,000,000.

 “The project is scheduled to be let to construction in June. So people should see work beginning on that project later this year.”

Currently, this 2-lane section of the road creates a bottleneck for commuters and is a common area for traffic congestion and accidents. According to State Highway Patrol, highway 17 in Jones County, has an average of anywhere from 55 to 65 collisions per year.  Jones County Emergency Medical Services Director Tim Pike has responded to numerous wrecks along this stretch of highway in the past 12 years.

“I think this 4 lane will really cut down on the number of accidents. You know you figure you’re meeting each other at 60 miles an hour, just maybe 4 or 5 feet apart. At least it will be separated by a median.”

Some improvement projects won’t begin until 2023, such as the Craven County upgrade along Highway 70 in James City, which is a popular route for beach-traffic during the summer. Once under construction, the existing roadway from the Neuse River Bridge to Grantham Road will be developed into a freeway for an estimated cost of $66,000,000.

In Lenoir County, north of Kinston, DOT will fund approximately $63,000,000 to create a new multi-lane route between the highways NC 58 and NC 11. This will be another addition to the existing Harvey Parkway, an outer-loop around Kinston which connects major highways in the area.

Overall, the State Transportation Improvement Program includes hundreds of highway projects, non-highway projects, interstate maintenance and bridge plans, safety improvements, and major transition projects scheduled to begin prior to July 1st.

This draft document is the first to utilize the new Strategic Transportation Investments law, which allows NCDOT to maximize existing resources and move forward with important projects. Under the new formula, NCDOT will be able fund 300 more projects and create about 126,000 more jobs compared to the old formula. This new process encourages thinking from a statewide and regional perspective while also providing flexibility to address local needs.

The NCDOT is seeking public feedback regarding the variety and geographic diversity of the projects, as well as ideas for improving the process used to develop the program.  The public feedback period runs through April 23rd and the Board of Transportation is expected to approve the Final 2016-2025 State Transportation Improvement Program in June.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.