Bypass bridge dedicated

Published 1:42 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Staff Write

The U.S. Highway 17 bypass bridge has a name that echoes the Voice of the Pamlico.
The bridge, now officially called the Sen. Ashley B. Futrell Bridge, was dedicated Friday in a ceremony on a windswept span over the Tar River.
Futrell was the longtime editor and publisher of the Washington Daily News. He served three terms in the state Senate, from 1965 until 1972.
He was a World War II veteran. Futrell worked for the Wilson Daily Times and as a tobacco buyer before coming to Washington to run the Daily News in 1949.
He was married to Rachel Futrell, who attended Friday’s event along with her son, Ashley B. “Brownie” Futrell Jr., editor and publisher of the Daily News, and his wife, Susan.
The elder Futrell died in 2005 at the age of 93. He remained at his desk as editor and publisher emeritus until shortly before his death.
“When Ashley was around, good things happened,” family friend Zoph Potts said during the dedication ceremony.
It has been estimated that Futrell wrote 25,000 editorials during his career, and many of those editorials favored improving U.S. 17, Potts related.
“He used the newspaper most effectively to champion what was right,” Potts stated.
In his remarks, state Transportation Secretary Gene Conti called the bridge “another milestone in improving the Highway 17 corridor.”
“The innovative techniques used in designing and constructing this bypass saved time and money, and set a standard of excellence for future projects in the state,” an N.C. Department of Transportation news release quotes Conti as saying.
In a post-ceremony interview, Conti said projects in DOT’s pipeline would eventually result in the long-awaited completion of the four-laning of U.S. 17.
Officials in the region have advocated widening the highway throughout its length in the state to spur economic development and improve the safety of travel.
Yet, Conti cautioned that some of the enhancement projects are in the initial planning stages while others are just coming on the books — and all are dependent on future funding levels.
The state is “well over halfway” to widening this major north-south highway to four lanes from the Virginia border to the South Carolina line, he added.
“We’re really making good progress,” Conti told the Daily News.
As for the bypass, “It could (open) within the next couple of weeks,” Neil Lassiter, a DOT division engineer, said in a separate interview.
Some minor additional tasks need to be completed, including shoulder work and line painting, Lassiter said.
The work depends largely on the weather, he pointed out, adding that warmer temperatures are needed to ensure the painted lines cure properly.
Construction of the $192 million bypass started in March 2007.
The 6.8-mile project runs from Price Road to Springs Road.
Also on hand Friday were Hugh Overholt, a member of the N.C. Board of Transportation; Archie Jennings, Washington mayor; Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County commissioners; state Rep. Arthur Williams of Washington; and a host of other area officials.
“It’s a great day, a great bridge,” Overholt said.