Cities want to protect U.S. Highway 264 corridor

Published 4:03 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2007

By Staff
Washington, Greenville officials begin talks on mutual concerns
Contributing Editor
Protecting the U.S. Highway 264 corridor between Washington and Greenville from too much development, especially commercial growth, is a priority for the two cities.
That consensus was reached Monday night by the Washington-Greenville joint issues committee, which met at the Skills Center at the Beaufort County Industrial Park. Washington City Council members Mickey Gahagan and Archie Jennings met with Greenville City Council members Ray Craft and Mildred Council, who serves as mayor pro tempore of the Greenville council.
James C. Smith, Washington’s city manager, told the committee the two cities must make sure U.S. 264 remains a limited-access corridor between the two cities. Minimizing the number of curb cuts along that highway would help keep traffic flowing in an expeditious manner, he said. Too much development along the highway will result in the driving time between the two cities being increased. The short driving time between Washington and Greenville is an advantage to residents of both cities, Smith said.
N.C. Department of Transportation officials have said that it would be cheaper to build a new U.S. 264 with limited access to the north of the existing highway, Smith said. That wouldn’t cost as much as protecting the existing U.S. 264 corridor from too much development by limiting access to it, according to DOT.
James Rhodes, planning director for Pitt County, said several rezonings for commercial development along the U.S. 264 corridor have taken place in Pitt County. He also said a large concrete plant has been approved at the intersection of U.S. 264 and N.C. Highway 30 at Midway.
Pitt County is developing an access-management policy for the U.S. 264 corridor to protect it from too much development, Rhodes said.
Because U.S. 264 serves as a “gateway” to both cities, it should be protected from a “proliferation” of billboards, Rhodes said. Pitt County is addressing the billboard issue, he said.
Because Beaufort County has no countywide zoning to protect the U.S. 264 corridor, Washington is considering extending its extra-territorial jurisdiction to the Beaufort County-Pitt County line on U.S. 264 in an effort to protect the corridor from too many billboards being put up.
Jennings said Beaufort County officials or city officials, or both, need to act to protect the U.S. 264 corridor from too much development and proliferation of billboards before it’s too late to act. Rhodes said there are other options to protecting that corridor besides the city extending its ETJ. Those options include stand-alone ordinances specifically enacted to manage issues such as billboards and development along the U.S. 264 corridor, he said.
The committee and other officials also talked about Pitt-Greenville Airport.
Jim Turcotte, general manager of the Pitt-Greenville Airport, said he would like to see more people in the region use the Greenville airport instead of driving to other airports such as Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But as long as it’s cheaper to fly out of airports like RDU, many eastern North Carolina residents will continue to make that drive to RDU, he said.
Turcotte said the Pitt-Greenville Airport’s market area suffers 75 percent leakage to RDU. There are two main reasons people from the region choose RDU over the Greenville airport, Turcotte said.
First, it’s usually cheaper to fly to one’s destination from RDU. Second, the drive to RDU is easier now than it used to be.
Bypasses around Wilson, Rocky Mount and Knightdale have made the drive to RDU faster and easier, Turcotte said.
Pitt-Greenville Airport does have a marketing strategy that appeals to some people, he said.
A Washington resident landing at RDU at 11 p.m. faces a two-hour drive home, he said. That same person flying into Greenville’s airport late at night faces a 20-minute drive home, Turcotte said.
He also said that another airline serving the Greenville airport would provide competition that could result in lower air fares.
Smith also said that if eastern North Carolina residents add gas costs for the trip to RDU, parking costs at RDU and factor in their time, they may determine that flying out of RDU costs them more than just what they paid for their tickets.
Turcotte said the Greenville airport is ready for the day when it becomes more convenient for eastern North Carolina residents to fly out of Greenville than Raleigh. As the Triangle area continues to grow, that day gets closer and closer, he said.
Turcotte said the Greenville airport will continue to work to make air travel from Greenville more accessible to eastern North Carolina residents.
The committee, which meets quarterly, plans to meet again in late June.