Assessment warns of detour to come

Published 8:09 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2013

 The Chocowinity Town Council met Tuesday night for a short meeting that saw the passing of the town’s new budget and discussion of the potential harm more road construction posed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation could affect town residents and businesses.

Last week, Bryant Buck, the town’s zoning administrator, received a community-impact assessment from NCDOT asking for the town’s input on the new construction: how much would building a new overpass over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks affect police and rescue services, schools and businesses?

Considering the project could potentially shut down U.S. Highway 17 Business for a year and a half, the answer could be “a lot,” according to Chocowinity Public Works Director Kevin Brickhouse.

The tracks are located near the intersection of U.S. 17 Business and Whichard’s Beach Road. As any detour would direct vehicles over U.S. Highway 17 Bypass, businesses along the “old” route from Chocowinity to Washington could suffer losses, some of which have already been negatively affected by a current overpass project on N.C. Highway 33 west of Chocowinity, Brickhouse said.

“Food Pride, Family Dollar, hotels and gas stations — it’d be the same if not double to the detriment of those businesses,” Brickhouse said. “Basically, you’d be bypassing Chocowinity.”

While the project is likely more than two years out, NCDOT is assessing potential impact through its questionnaire and asking for possible work-arounds for the communities affected. Brickhouse said he, Chocowinity Town Clerk Joy McRoy and Mayor Jimmy Mobley requested NCDOT consider narrowing Highway 17 Business traffic to one lane, which would impede traffic but wouldn’t shut the highway down altogether.

“That was one of our suggestions to them. I don’t see that happening,” Brickhouse said. “But you can always ask.”

Another concern for town officials is the two incidents last winter when U.S. Highway 17 Bypass bridge had to be closed due to icy conditions. With no other travel options to Washington from Chocowinity, a 20-minute detour through Grimesland could adversely affect police, fire and rescue services, Brickhouse said.

“It’s going to have a county-wide affect,” Brickhouse said.

The council went into closed session after a brief discussion on a recent complaint that Chocowinity’s Town Hall and fire department flags were flying at full staff on Memorial Day.

“We give our employees the day off with pay. We don’t require them to come in to fly a flag,” Mobley said. “We had 21 flags all over town … How much more patriotic can you get?”

Mobley and David Fields, with the Chocowinity Fire Department, encouraged anyone interested in volunteering for flag duty to contact them.