New U.S. 17 bridge makes lots of sense

Published 10:54 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2008

By Staff
When we were in school, teachers taught us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Hood Richardson must have gone to a different school, or maybe he’s smarter than the rest of us because he’s a licensed surveyor.
The Beaufort County commissioner is railing against the new U.S. Highway 17 bridge, under construction as part of the U.S. 17 bypass project, saying it’s in the wrong place.
First, consider that if there were a time to debate the location of the bridge, now is not the time. Construction on the $190 million bypass is already well under way. This isn’t an issue that cropped up this week. The U.S. 17 bypass has been in the works for years.
Richardson also fails to grasp that basic mathematical concept of the shortest distance between two places.
The way we look at a map, it’s about 50 miles as a crow flies from Williamston to New Bern. Washington lies about half way between, and U.S. 17 is the road that connects those three cities. If the goal of a U.S. highway is to move the most number of people, it makes sense to place it between population centers and have the road routed on a path as straight as possible.
Let’s look at the words “U.S. Highway 17 bypass.” We read those to say the road is a bypass for U.S. Highway 17. We would further go on to say that a bypass should probably be in some proximity to the road it is bypassing, in this case, U.S. 17.
Richardson says the bridge should have been built east of Washington, not west of it. He doesn’t say exactly where, that might depend on just who he is speaking to. For the sake of argument, let’s just say a bridge near Bath would be the choice. If you string a line from Williamston to Bath and then Bath to New Bern the distance is least 60 miles, or 10 miles more than the current route. It’s costing $190 million to build a 6.8 mile bypass and bridge at the bypass location. How much would it cost to build a 60-mile-long, four-lane road from scratch? Is that how Richardson would spend your money?
The Pamlico River is also at least two and half miles wide at that point near Bath, maybe four or five times as wide as the Tar River is at the location DOT picked for the bridge.
The bypass will eventually extend from Springs Road just north of Washington to Price Road just south of Chocowinity. Construction on the bypass began in February.
Building the bypass east of the city would have united the eastern portions of the county separated by the Pamlico River, Richardson said. Another bridge farther east would be nice, but we don’t see how you can tie it into the U.S. 17 project.
The worst part of Monday’s commissioners’ meeting is Richardson stooped so low as to dishonor the memory of Ashley B. Futrell Sr.
When Richardson’s motion to name the bypass Democrat Bypass failed, Commissioner Robert Cayton made a motion to name the bypass, including its bridge, after Futrell. The motion passed 5-2, with commissioners Stan Deatherage and Richardson voting against.
Thankfully, McRoy and Klemm must realize that Richardson doesn’t control who does and doesn’t go to hell. Same goes for commissioners Ed Booth, Jerry Langley and Cayton.
The Futrell family did not ask that the bridge be named to honor Mr. Futrell, but we see it as a fitting gesture. He was a state senator from 1965 through 1972 and helped push through the establishment of Beaufort County Community College and improvements to East Carolina University. As chief executive of the Washington Daily News for more than 50 years before he died Feb. 11, 2005, he championed the people of eastern North Carolina.
If state officials agree to name the bypass after Mr. Futrell, we believe it would be a fitting tribute to a man who tried to leave the world a better place. If DOT decides to name it something else, that’s in its power to do so.