The long awaited widening of Highway 17 and bypass project around Pollocksville and Maysville is finally getting off the ground. We’ll talk about the plan and how it will impact these small eastern North Carolina communities.
Highway 17 is a major link for eastern North Carolina. It connects military bases, the ports, and other economic engines of the region. Improving the flow of traffic along Highway 17 from Jacksonville to New Bern has been a priority for the Department of Transportation for many years. And finally, progress is being made in fulfilling that goal. Executive Director of the Highway 17 Association Mark Finlayson says road projects planned for Jones County have been approved and will break ground in 2015.
“DOT calls it R-2514 project, that’s their STIP designation, State Transportation Improvement Program. It is the same project we’ve been dealing with, one way or another for decades, literally.”
Finlayson says the project has been delayed again and again due to potential impacts to historic properties, wildlife species, and the environment.
“So all those things had to be taken into account and eventually were resolved. Perhaps, taking longer than it would otherwise.”
In August, NCDOT appropriated the final $56 million dollars to fully fund the project. The plan involves the construction of two bypasses around the towns of Maysville and Pollocksville and the widening of the stretch of existing highway between the two communities. Finlayson says the entire 12 to 14 mile projects will start simultaneously.
“At the Board of Transportation meeting, the board approved an acceleration of contract letting of the project so it will take place in June of 2015, and all three of the segments, the Pollocksville bypass, the stretch in between and the Maysville bypass will be let together.”
When the project is completed, the entire Highway 17 corridor south of New Bern to the South Carolina state line will be 4-lanes. Mayor of Pollocksville Jay Bender believes the $225 million dollar project will have a positive economic impact on the small town.
“the pros are obviously a great reduction in the amount of traffic through our little town which has become a real safety issue. The other pro that I see that comes from the bypass is going to be a significant economic boost in the area is just outside the current town limits. The major intersection for the bypass through Jones County will be at the intersection of 58 and new 17, that’s where the beach traffic comes from. Pollocksville will even actually get two stoplights out of the deal.”
Mayor Bender says several companies have already contacted him with interest in setting up new businesses in the town. He believes an existing industrial area just north of Pollocksville will see benefit from the road projects too.
“this will be an easy access for these folks to get on and off a major highway, and it will make them more efficient, it will make them grow, and it will make our area grow.”
While Bender is optimistic, some aren’t so happy with the plan. Ian Dyne is a store manager for Piggly Wiggly in Maysville. He says they’ll take a hit, especially during the summer months.
“We’ll miss out on a lot of the beach traffic during the summer. It picks up after Memorial Day and runs through about Labor Day. You know, people stop in that have timeshares at Emerald Isle stop in you know and get a weeks worth of groceries or so and that helps us out during the summer. I just hope this doesn’t turn us into the town that time forgot. I’d like to see the town grow and the community grow and not isolate themselves.”
Town Manager Johnathan Franklin agrees some of the local businesses will take a hit. But he says the bypass will give Maysville the chance to reclaim its main street.
“With the traffic that goes through now, it’s not safe, it’s not pedestrian friendly for the people who walk. Once we can get a majority of that traffic going around, or going through the bypass, we can really focus on making downtown Maysville, or Main Street, you know, usable. Make it walkable, make it stroller friendly, and really start to transform Main Street into what typically you would think of a main street in a small town like Maysville is.”
Franklin says he’s glad to hear the Department of Transportation will be widening a dangerous section of highway 17.
“As far as safety goes, between Pollocksville and Maysville we have one of the highest numbers of extrications, meaning the fire department rescuing people from car accidents. So we’re also looking forward to getting that four lane road through here to make that route a lot safer than it is right now.”
The highway improvement doesn’t come without a cost. Brian Yamamoto is the head of the Department of Transportation’s Eastern Project Development and Environmental Analysis Branch. He says about 50 people will be displaced as a result of the widening project.
“In addition to the properties that are completely taken, there are going to be some people that are just loosing pieces of the property. So we do have right of way appraisers that go out appraise the damages to those pieces of property and then you enter into the negotiations process with our right of way section.”
Yamamoto says construction will start in 2015 and could be completed as early as 2018. To see a map of the R-2514 bypass through Onslow and Jones Counties, go to our website, publicradioeast.org and click on this story. I’m Jared Brumbaugh.