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U.S. 17 improvements granted federal funds

By Staff
Bridge over Tar River 50 percent complete
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
North Carolina’s Congressional Delegation has netted more than $300,000 from the federal government for the improvement of U.S. Highway 17 through Beaufort County.
The U.S. Department of Transportation had approved a grant for $338,468 that will go toward paying for the 16-mile U.S. 17 Washington Bypass project currently under construction. The announcement was made Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who is facing her first re-election campaign.
The sum was whittled down from a $2 million funding request made to the federal government this year, according to Marc Finlayson, executive director of the Highway 17 Association, a group that advocates for the highway to be four lanes through North Carolina.
The three-part project carries a price tag of $240 million. While the grant doesn’t come close to covering that cost, Neil Lassiter, a district engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Greenville office, said it would help.
Those two sections are the bridge being built over the Tar River west of Washington — called section “B” — and a section that stretches south of Washington from Chocowinity to Possum Track Road — or section “A.” Section “C,” widening the section of U.S. 17 between Washington and Old Ford, will be let out for bids in Nov. 2009, according to N.C. DOT officials.
The bridge, scheduled for completion in November 2010, is about half done, Ed Eatmon, division construction engineer with N.C. DOT, said. That project, which is progressing simultaneously northward from Chocowinity and southward from Washington, represents the bulk of the project cost — about $220 million, according to Eatmon.
Section B, scheduled to be finished in September 2010, is about 10 percent complete, Eatmon said.
The three sections that comprise the Washington Bypass are fully funded, according to Finlayson. Money to purchase land to four-lane the section of highway between Old Ford and Williamston has been acquired but $35 million to cover construction costs on that section has yet to be funded, he said.
The final section of U.S. 17 in Beaufort County that to be four laned is the section between Possum Track Road and Vanceboro, which is neither on the Transportation Improvement Program or funded, according to Finlayson. Portions of the highway in Craven County did receive funding from the federal government to fund their improvement this year, Finlayson said.
Another funding request has been made to the federal government for the next fiscal year that began Tuesday, Finlayson said.