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DOT Releases Project List, Highway 64 Bypass Misses the Cut

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RALEIGH — The state Board of Transportation has approved $9.2 billion worth of road construction and improvements, in spite of opposition from two board members who voted against the plan.

TheDepartment of Transportationreleased its blueprint for future road projects Thursday afternoon, and for the first time, the plan includes the cost of inflation and project delays. The DOT says that means the department can pay for everything that has been promised.

The DOT says its Transportation Improvement Program will meet the state's most critical transportation needs over the next seven years. The plan includes money for almost 3,000 projects and puts more emphasis on safety and the environment.

The DOT is touting its latest plan as providing the biggest highway safety initiatives ever in North Carolina. One of the first initiatives will be to install guardrails in medians across the state -- costing more than $118 million.

"The focus we've placed is on safety," says Janet D'Ignazio with the DOT. "[For example] the pulling out of the guardrail projects, and the new policy that we've set -- anytime that we have a median that is less than 70 feet wide and we are making a road improvement, we will automatically install a median guardrail on that project because we know it saves lives."

The state will also put reflective pavement markings on more than 2,100 miles of highway to improve nighttime visibility. DOT also has its sights set on the environment.

For the first time, funds will be set aside to protect wetlands and preserve wildlife habitat in the midst of construction.

"We want to be environmentally responsible at DOT," D'Ignazio said. "We recognize that the roads have an impact on the environment, and we want to make sure we can address that."

But not everyone is happy, particularly about oneWake Countyproject that did not make the cut.

The DOT held 45 community meetings across the state before finalizing the plan. The meeting held in Knightdale was standing room only, and town officials and citizens were adamant about the construction of a Highway 64 Bypass.

During high traffic times, it takes 34 minutes to drive the six miles from Knightdale to the beltline, according to the Knightdale mayor. However, help is not coming soon.

The final draft of the Transportation Improvement Program states the Highway 64 Bypass around Knightdale will be delayed three years until 2008. Mayor Joe Bryan calls it "mind-boggling."

"I don't see how you can call that an efficient organization," he said. "[They] didn't hear the public comment, and didn't go out and seek additional resources to meet the needs. That's not efficiency."

Mayor Bryan says his fellow Wake County mayors feel the bypass is a high priority, as do the motorists who deal with the traffic.

"I think it needs to be built because maybe it would eliminate all of this traffic," says motorist Jamie Kramer. "It's a hassle when you come home from work and you don't feel like waiting in traffic, and all you want to do is come home."

Mayor Bryan says the bypass has been in the works since 1986, and it needs to be on the top of DOT's list.

"It's not Knightdale's 5,000 residents that are clogging this road up, this is a state road," he said. "This is the gateway from Eastern North Carolina to Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park."

No one from the DOT was available for comment on the Knightdale project.

Many do believe, though, that it is time to look at new ways to raise money for road projects. "In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area they've been allowed to levy a half-cent sales tax on their voters who approved it for public transportation improvements," said DOT Board Member Juanita Shearer-Swink.

"There's the possibility of local gas tax options," Shearer-Swink says. Toll roads are also an option being considered.

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Lynda Loveland, Reporter
David Renner, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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