Washington bypass construction begins

Published 9:05 am Saturday, February 17, 2007

By Staff
Efforts to improve highway began decades ago
By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
After years of talk, more talk and, finally, planning, construction of the U.S. Highway 17 bypass around Washington begins Monday.
Efforts to improve Highway 17 began to increase in the 1960s, when a group of eastern North Carolina residents formed the U.S. Highway 17 Transportation Association to lobby for the widening of the highway from Virginia to South Carolina.
The bypass, a 6.8-mile project stretching from Price Road near Chocowinity to Springs Road at Washington, is the first highway project in Beaufort County to be constructed using the design-build method. That method reduces a project’s completion time by contracting a single firm to simultaneously design and construct the project, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The four-lane bypass is expected to relieve traffic congestion on existing Highway 17, as well as provide motorists with improved access to eastern North Carolina. The $192 million project was awarded to Flatiron/United, a joint venture between Colorado-based Flatiron Constructors and United Contractors. The project is expected to be completed in November 2010.
Attempts to contact Bill Kincannon, the project’s resident engineer in Greenville, were unsuccessful Friday.
It’s another impact that concerns city officials.
Councilman Archie Jennings said the bypass project provides the city “the first real glimpse into the next era for Washington and towns like Washington.” That era will include how projects like the bypass affect they areas they are in, he said.
Because the bypass is expected to greatly affect land use in the bypass corridor, Washington’s City Council imposed a moratorium on the city approving development on properties within 500 feet on either side of the proposed bypass corridor boundary within the city’s jurisdiction. City officials have said the moratorium on rezonings, subdivision plat approvals (preliminary and final) and the issuance of building permits will allow the city to develop and implement land-use controls to regulate development in the corridor.
Even before the bypass is completed, it will affect the city, Jennings said.
Jennings has expressed concern that construction of the bypass, which includes lane closures and closing of most of Grimes Road during the project, will result in heavy traffic flow on Fifth Street. He wants the city to find ways that will allow it, as much as possible, to keep that from happening.
Not addressing the problem now will lead the city to a “painful process to fix it down the road,” Jennings said.
Councilman Mickey Gahagan is more than happy to see the construction begin.
As the project unfolds, crews will build two bridges each over U.S. Highway 264 and 15th Street to accommodate the new bypass. Motorists can expect lane closures. At least one lane of traffic will remain open in both directions from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. This bridge work is scheduled to be complete in January 2008.
A 2.9-mile bridge will span the Tar River and adjacent wetlands.
Construction crews will begin working at both ends of the project, working toward the center of the bridge over the Tar River, according to DOT officials. The bridge over the river will feature a new type of guardrail being used for the first time in North Carolina and a lower bridge grade that helps reduce the cost of construction while maintaining a high level of safety, according to DOT project literature.
Relocation of utilities in and around the Grimes Road area of the project began earlier this week.
The project requires the relocation of about 120 homes, churches and businesses, according to DOT.
DOT will keep the public informed about upcoming lane closures as the project progresses, according to a DOT news release. DOT also reminds motorists to watch for signs displaying construction information, stay alert and obey the posted speed limit.