Feds provide more money for U.S. 17

Published 2:19 am Saturday, January 26, 2008

By Staff
Beaufort, Craven counties to benefit
Managing Editor
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has an extra $612,000 to improve U.S. Highway 17 between Washington and New Bern as the result of additional federal funding it will receive.
The Washington bypass project in Beaufort County will receive $367,500, and $245,000 is earmarked for Craven County to improve the road between Vanceboro and Bridgeton, according to an announcement released this week.
DOT has already earmarked $192 million for the 6.8-mile bypass around Washington and Chocowinity. Earlier this month DOT awarded an additional $12.9 million to widen U.S. 17 from where the bypass project ends at Price Road down to Possum Track Road (State Road 1127.)
The federal funds approved by Congress and President Bush will allow work to be done faster, according to Marc Finlayson, executive director of the Highway 17 Association, a lobbying group working to get the entire highway made four-lane.
The Beaufort County money can be used to improve U.S. 17 farther north from where it would end at Gregory Poole Equipment Company in Washington, according to Neil Lassiter, a DOT engineer in Greenville. The Craven County funds can be used for planning for widening sections of U.S. 17 north of Bridgeton.
DOT is spending an average of $3 million for every mile of work it does on the section south of Chocowinity.
The federal appropriation requires a 20-percent match of state money but does not otherwise obligate the state DOT to reorder priorities or sacrifice any existing projects.
The ability to have the money now will save the government money in the long run, Finlayson said.
The Beaufort County appropriation was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. G.K. Butterfield and on the Senate side by Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr. The Craven County appropriation was sponsored in the House by Rep. Walter Jones.
The 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill was signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 26. These two appropriations do not affect the 2008 federal transportation budget from which North Carolina receives a share of federal motor-fuels taxes.
Current U.S. 17 efforts total $266 million
Bertie County portion nearly complete
Managing Editor
A four-lane bypass around Washington is just one of six projects under way at the moment involving U.S. Highway 17 in North Carolina. The total price tag for those projects exceeds $266 million.
The smallest of the six jobs is a $1.4 million contract to widen and resurface 6.6 miles in Craven County from N.C. Highway 43 to north of the Vanceboro bypass. Work is scheduled to be completed by November.
The bypass and bridge over the Tar River, west of Washington, is the largest of the six projects at $192 million. When complete, the Beaufort County projects will result in a four-lane section of U.S. 17 from the Old Ford community south to within four miles of the Craven County line.
One significant improvement to U.S. 17 is nearly complete. DOT is spending $63.8 million to build an 8.7-mile bypass around Windsor in Bertie County. The road will go from U.S. 13/17 to east of State Road 1503. The project was started three years ago, and was planned to be completed by June, but it is ahead of schedule.
Not all of the projects involve paving and/or widening. DOT is spending $5.3 million to replace bridge control systems for the Cape Fear Memorial lift bridge in Brunswick and New Hanover counties. The job, which started in the summer of 2006, is set to be finished by February.
Unrelated to the Washington bypass project, DOT is funding $2.1 million to repair and repaint the U.S. 17 swing bridge in Washington. As of this week, the project was 39 percent complete and ahead of schedule. Work is set to be completed by May 15.
The status of U.S. 17 will be a major topic of discussion Tuesday when the Highway 17 Association holds its annual meeting in New Bern.
The keynote speaker at the meeting, being held at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, will be State Rep. William Wainwright, speaker pro tem of the N.C. House of Representatives and a member of the 21st Century Transportation Commission. He will be speak about the future of transportation in North Carolina and the work of the blue-ribbon commission studying the state’s transportation program.
On top of the six U.S. 17 projects now in the works, more are planned.
In November, DOT is expected to award the contract for the New Bern bypass from U.S. 17 in the Rheams community to the area near Clarks. In July, DOT is expected to fund improvements to the section of U.S. 17 from Bridgeton to Antioc Road.
Improvements to a section of U.S. 17 in Jones County were recently completed near Maysville.
DOT isn’t just trying to build four-lanes, it’s trying as much as possible to build limited access freeways.
The latest U.S. 17 widening project approved by DOT involves building a second two-lane road parallel to existing U.S. 17 with a 46-foot wide median between the travel lanes. Once the new two-lane is built, the original two-lane section will be widened with a 4-foot-wide outside shoulder and a 2-foot-wide inside shoulder. The work could start as early as Feb. 4, and it is to be completed by Sept. 1, 2010, about two months before the completion of the Washington bypass.