Investment will pay off

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By Staff
Slow, but sure, well, not so sure at times.
That’s a good way to describe the efforts to improve U.S. Highway 17 through Beaufort County, not to mention eastern North Carolina.
For years, groups like the Southern Albemarle Association and the Highway 17 Association have worked to have North Carolina’s section of U.S. 17 widened to four lanes from Virginia to South Carolina. It’s been happening, but it’s been happening slowly. One of these days, and that day is getting closer, motorists will no longer drive on sections of U.S. 17 that are two lanes.
Last week, it was announced the U.S. Department of Transportation had approved a $338,468 grant that will help pay for the 16-mile U.S. 17 Washington bypass currently under construction. Yes, when it comes to that project’s multi-million price tag, the U.S. DOT grant is just a drop in the bucket. But collect enough drops and the bucket gets filled.
To be sure, those pushing for make U.S. 17 at least a four-lane highway through North Carolina asked for more money. The grant is less than the $2 million sought from 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.
Even North Carolina Department of Transportation officials are grateful for that drop in a bucket. Neil Lassiter, a district engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Greenville office, said that drop will help.
Any amount of money from any source that goes toward improving U.S. 17 in North Carolina, and especially in Beaufort County, should be welcomed and appreciated, whether that amount is a drop in the bucket or fills that bucket. An improved U.S. 17 throughout North Carolina should be a boon to the economy in the eastern part of the state.
That’s why another drop in the bucket, this time a larger drop, is being sought. Another request for funds to help improve U.S. 17 has been made to the federal government. This request seeks an allocation to be made during the state’s fiscal year that began July 1, Finlayson said.
The Highway 17 Association is partially funded by money from several eastern North Carolina counties and municipalities, Washington among them. It appears the city is getting a good return for its investment in the association.
On Feb. 11, Finlayson provided the City Council with a report on the association’s activities and goals. One of those goals, according to the council’s minutes of that Feb. 11 meeting, calls for the association to “explore innovative ways to generate more income for the association and its mission, including soliciting private donations for special events and seeking grant money for special projects.”
If that effort results in adding drops to the U.S. 17 improvements bucket in coming years, the investment made in the association by those counties and municipalities that help fund it will have paid off. That final payoff may not be a big one, but at least there will be a payoff.