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Bridge location was a compromise, officials say

By Staff
Lack of support could have delayed project
By PETER WILLIAMS
Managing Editor
The final location of the U.S. Highway 17 bypass bridge in Washington was the result of intense study and the fine art of compromise, say officials close to the project.
Mattocks, a resident of New Bern, said the highway agency shies away from funding projects unless there is broad-based support for them.
During his watch, Mattocks was involved with the $93 million project to bridge the Trent and Neuse Rivers in New Bern. He readily admits there were parts of that project that he didn’t like, but he went along with them because to do otherwise would mean the risk of losing funding.
Zoph Potts, a Washington resident and former president of the Highway 17 Association, agreed. The association gets funding from 10 counties, nine municipalities and lobbies to get all of U.S. 17 four-laned in North Carolina.
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson raised his opposition to the location of the new bridge at a meeting last week. The bypass project takes U.S. 17 west of the current swing bridge in Washington and loops back over existing U.S. 17 and then back to Price Road, south of Chocowinity.
Mattocks is still involved with improving U.S. 17 as a member of the Highway 17 Association and visits the area monthly.
The decision on where to place the bridge didn’t just rest with the N.C. DOT, according to Ed Eatmon, a district construction engineer based in the Greenville office.
There were at least 10 agencies involved in the decision including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency, Eaton said.
Mattocks said instead of debating the location of bridge that is already under construction, eastern North Carolina should be stepping up pressure to get other parts of U.S. 17 four-laned. The Association would prefer brand-new limited access four-lanes, but will settle on adding two more lanes in areas where U.S. 17 already exists. That is the case with a contract that DOT approved last week that widens the stretch between Price Road and Vanceboro.
The current phase of the bypass project is 6.8 miles long, but only about a quarter mile of it is actually over the Tar River. Bridges make up nearly three miles of the project, but most of those span wetlands, not the Tar River.
Some argue that a bridge further east of Washington would better serve residents there. The bridge location that was picked, however, is closer to the majority of the population of the county and closer to the existing U.S. 17. That plays a role, because the southern portion of the U.S. 17 bypass will include portions of the old highway, DOT officials say.
The Pantego, Bath and Richlands townships are home to about 15,000 of Beaufort County’s 45,000 residents. The Washington, Long Acre and Chocowinity townships make up more than 30,000.