Not so strategic, folks

Published 6:48 pm Monday, November 21, 2016


A few years ago, the General Assembly put into effect the Strategic Mobility Formula, a way to direct money toward projects that would improve the state’s roads and highways. It’s data-driven, projects are ranked by importance, and money is doled out on a statewide, then regional, then divisional level.

For projects that rank high on the list of priorities, there’s no issue with finding eventual funding. But for projects that rank low, at each tier more money disappears until, on the division level, there’s little funds left to be had.

The formula doesn’t really account for rural areas. It targets traffic, taking on projects that alleviate congestion in highly populated areas. Much of eastern North Carolina isn’t considered highly populated, and traffic can be a mere annoyance as opposed to the hours-long, rush-hour gridlock found in the metropolitan areas.

Beaufort County’s projects rank pretty low.

U.S. Highway 17 runs north to south, the only highway east of I-95 that does so continuously from border to border. It could be a major transportation thruway — one around which businesses would crop up as traffic increases. But a few things prevent the highway from being used as intended in that it has some gaps. Where it is four-lane and easy driving through most of the state, in spots in Beaufort, Craven and Martin counties, the highway reverts back to two-lanes, which can be slow going under certain circumstances, for example, coming across farm equipment or school buses, or slower drivers. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, a trucker with a cargo that needs to be delivered in as little time as possible is not going to choose the unpredictable U.S. 17 traffic over smooth sailing on I-95.

This hurts Beaufort County. It hurts the county because as long as it does not have a four-lane highway, industry has a lessened interest in moving here. If they’re making a product, why should they make it off the beaten path when there are so many other places with easier transportation options out there?

Beaufort County’s legislators need to get on board with completing U.S. 17, not only in the county, but in Craven and Martin too. Let them know that as long as the Strategic Mobility Formula is in place, the county’s economic prospects of attracting industry are pretty low, and they need to set the bar a little higher.