Study: Improving U.S. 70 would be a boon for eastern NC
Posted June 19, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Upgrading U.S. Highway 70 in eastern North Carolina could boost the state’s economy, attract new jobs and provide a faster route from Raleigh to the coast, according to a study released Thursday.
The study, prepared for the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission and the state Department of Transportation, suggests building bypasses around Goldsboro, Kinston, New Bern and Morehead City. The enhancements would cut travel time from Raleigh to the coast by over an hour, the report said. Currently, the trip takes about 2.5 hours.
While the corridor is a hub for manufacturing, agri-business and military industries, and is the primary route between Raleigh and Morehead City, it has not experienced the same growth as other improved corridors, such as U.S. Highway 264 in eastern North Carolina and Interstate 40 in southeastern North Carolina, the report said.
“The communities surrounding the corridor are losing their competitive advantage to those areas with better highway access, fewer traffic signals and less congestion,” the report said. “For example, during interviews with local stakeholders, it was noted that tourists are now avoiding U.S. 70 and taking a more circuitous route to the coast to avoid delays from traffic or competing with trucks for road space.”
Improvements good for business
Public officials and community members interviewed for the report described the highway as “our main street” and “the only way in or out.” They also said they “live and die by what happens on U.S. 70.”
Major employers along the corridor are within 2 miles of the highway. In Kinston, 2,000 jobs are within a quarter-mile of the roadway.
Some have cited the highway as a reason why counties are losing business opportunities. Boeing and Gatorade reconsidered building facilities along the highway due to difficulty getting trucks to Interstate 95, the report said.
“Completion of the bypass system, which would improve safety and connectivity, reduce travel time and cost, and would enhance the competitive position of corridor companies to compete for plant expansions; creating jobs and growing the local tax base,” the report said.
Turning the roadway into a fully-controlled access highway, similar to the U.S. Highway 70 Bypass in Clayton, would result in $56 million in business savings, an increase of $1.2 billion to the gross regional product (GRP), over $900 million in additional personal income and nearly 550 additional jobs per year between 2014 and 2040, the report said.
An interstate-like highway could result in as many as 1,350 additional jobs per year, allow corridor counties to better compete for economic development projects and improve access to Interstate 95 and Research Triangle Park, the report said.
“Not making the improvements along U.S. 70 will result in slower economic growth along the corridor in the order of 350 fewer jobs per year and $800 million less in GRP and $610 million less in personal income between 2014 and 2040,” the report said.
Traffic along the highway’s busiest sections is expected to increase to 82,000 vehicles per year by 2040, the report said.
“Completion of the improved corridor will improve safety of…employees, reduce congestion, and potentially reduce commute times,” the report said. “In addition, as has been found in Johnston County, the completion of the improvements and bypass can expand the labor pool and access to new markets. With travel time measured in time, not miles, workers can now commute further distances in the same amount of time; greatly increasing the area from which companies can draw from.”
The report cites the success of the Clayton Bypass, saying “the benefits of improved safety, decreased congestion, and better connectivity are already paying dividends in that area.” The highway made it easier for residents to shop because commuters no longer depended on the local route, the report said.
Some parts of the plan are already underway. The Goldsboro Bypass is expected to be completed by the end of 2015. The other improvements have yet to be scheduled, according to the state Department of Transportation.