Highway 17 project showing progress

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2007

By Staff
Consider it another piece in the puzzle.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, six miles of U.S. Highway 17 between Jacksonville and Belgrade in Onslow County have been upgraded to a limited-access, four-lane road. It opens today.
That may not be of immediate interest to drivers in Beaufort County, but it represents another link in the larger chain of a four-lane U.S. 17 throughout North Carolina.
The widening project has been decades in the works, but we hope it won’t be decades more before it becomes reality.
According to North Carolina Department of Transportation resident engineer Chad Kimes, work on the $20 million Onslow County project began in early 2005, so it took nearly three years to complete.
The Jacksonville-to-Belgrade segment is part of a larger project that DOT lists as R-2514 on its Transportation Improvement Program. In all, the project will extend 21.4 miles from the four-lane highway north of Jacksonville, eventually tying into the proposed New Bern bypass along existing U.S. 17 in southern Craven County. Should agreement be reached on appropriate routes, the improved highway would bypass Maysville and Pollocksville in Jones County. Because of delays and lack of funding, expenditures for right-of-way acquisitions and construction for the remaining segments are not expected before 2011. Some $72 million of the remaining $214 million cost is still not funded, according to the TIP.
The Highway 17 Transportation Association in North Carolina was created in 1975 through a collaboration of local government and civic leaders up and down the U.S. 17 corridor. The association’s mission is to ensure the construction of a controlled-access, four-lane U.S. 17 from Virginia to South Carolina. Finlayson seems pleased with the progress made in his first year at the helm of the group.
One doesn’t have to look to Onslow County to see more progress. The construction of the U.S. 17 bypass at Washington is making solid progress. What makes the Washington project so grand is the giant bridge it will require to span the Tar River. Building a four-lane road over dry land is one thing. Spanning a river and wetlands is another. The Washington project is 10 times the cost of the Onslow County project that opens today.
Again, a crucial piece of the puzzle.
The good news is that funding to purchase the remaining land needed to construct a four-lane U.S. 17 between Washington and Williamston has been acquired. At the beginning of the month, a draft of the 2009 N.C. Transportation Improvement Program was released, including an $8.5 million line item that will cover the remaining balance that was required to purchase the rights-of-way for State Road 2511, Finlayson said.
That’s good news for the Inner Banks as a whole.