HAVELOCK — North Carolina Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon visited the area Tuesday to observe ongoing construction and give an update on the various transportation projects underway in the region.
Mr. Trogdon visited Slocum Road in Havelock, where a bypass is under construction and set to be complete by the end of the year to ease congestion caused by traffic coming and going from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s Slocum gate.
“It’s much better for supporting the thousands of thousands of employees changing shift, going in in the morning and out in the afternoon, clearing them off (Highway) 70 so that everyone else won’t see as much congestion here at the Slocum gate,” he said.
Historically, Mr. Trogdon said the state spent an average of about $1.7 billion per year on transportation projects, but in recent years, officials have been trying to increase investment in transportation infrastructure. He said the state spent $3 billion last year on transportation, and he hopes to hit $4 billion in 2019.
The transportation secretary said a significant amount of that money is for projects in eastern North Carolina, including some in Carteret County.
“Right now, I’ve probably got as much construction going on in eastern North Carolina as we’ve had in our history,” Mr. Trogdon said.
One major project on the radar for the county is replacement of the current two-lane Morehead City-Beaufort high-rise bridge. The replacement bridge will be four lanes, and there will also be an interchange constructed on Radio Island to help ease mobility between the towns.
N.C. Department of Transportation Division 2 engineer Jeff Cabaniss, who joined Mr. Trogdon on his visit, said the new bridge project is moving along, with design planning expected to kick off this year, right-of-way tasks slated for 2020 and construction starting sometime after that.
The new bridge was originally going to be a design-build project, one in which design and construction are handled by the same entity in order to expedite the project. Based on the draft 2020-29 State Transportation Improvement Plan, which was introduced earlier this month, Mr. Cabaniss said the project will now follow a more traditional process, with separate companies carrying out the design and construction.
“Timing of the right-of-way really didn’t change, but the construction moved back,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Other major projects Mr. Trogdon touched on included the Havelock bypass, which will be awarded to a contractor next month, and the James City bypass, which will soon begin construction. Both of those projects should help improve mobility on Highway 70 toward Carteret County.
Mr. Trogdon also discussed the Build NC Act, which passed in 2018 as a way of financing and expediting transportation projects through the sale of bonds. He said the state will sell the first round of Build NC bonds this year. According to NCDOT, repayment of any bonds sold will come from the state’s Highway Trust Fund, not the general fund.
“Over the next five years, somewhere around $350 million in Build NC projects will be (built) eastern North Carolina, so there’s just lots of work going on,” he said.
Additionally, NCDOT announced last year the state will receive a $147 million federal INFRA (Infrastructure for Rebuilding America) Grant for mobility improvements focused on eastern North Carolina. The grant will help upgrade segments of Highway 70 to interstate standards, widen portions of Interstate 95 and install about 300 miles of fiber optic cable to expand access to broadband internet.
Mr. Trogdon said the INFRA Grant presents a great opportunity for improving communications and mobility in eastern North Carolina. He said the broadband piece, especially, should be a boon for the region.
“We’re putting fiber or broadband communications … from U.S. (Highway) 70 to I-95, all the way to Morehead City,” he said. “The goal is to make it so we can communicate with connected vehicles in the future, but then also offer that up through a public-private partnership to communications companies so they can extend that to areas that are underserved with high-speed internet.”
The INFRA Grant will also help the state get closer to its goal of upgrading Highway 70 from Raleigh to Morehead City to interstate standards. Once that is complete, the stretch will be designated as Interstate 42. Mr. Trogdon said the future interstate will benefit the region’s economy by improving mobility and attracting companies to the area.
“It will definitely empower. One of the things that companies look for when they’re looking at locations for manufacturing and distribution is easy connections to the interstate,” he said. “We know freeways sometimes can do that, however, if you haven’t checked, U.S. (Highway) 70 still has lots of traffic signals.”
Mr. Trogdon said eliminating signalized intersections will make the journey from the Triangle region to Carteret County much quicker.
“We want to make sure that the whole U.S. 70 corridor is for free mobility so that you don’t have to worry about delays,” he said.
Mr. Trogdon said while construction may cause temporary headaches for residents, the benefits make it worth it in the end. He joked there is so much construction activity throughout North Carolina right now, it could be a new symbol for the state.
“When I came to the department, I interviewed for the job with the governor (Gov. Roy Cooper),” he said. “I promised him in four years when I leave, the new state tree will be the orange barrel, the new state flower will be the orange work zone sign and the new state motto will be ‘To build, rather than to seem.’”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.