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US 158 improvements: Purpose and Need

CONWAY – While road improvements, whether it’s a simple repaving job or building a brand new highway, are a necessity, what drives the process?

In the case of NCDOT’s plans to improve 32 miles of US 158 in Northampton County, why is it necessary to impact as many as 118 homes, eight businesses, 22 historic properties, four schools, three churches, seven cemeteries and thousands of acres of fertile farmland at a cost of nearly $292 million.

At Tuesday’s public hearing held at Conway Middle School, NCDOT official Ed Lewis attempted to answer those and other questions in regards to widening US 158 to four lanes from the I-95/NC 46 interchange to the Murfreesboro Bypass.

Lewis said the purpose of the project was to improve traffic flow and level of service (LOS), fulfill US 158’s role as a Strategic Highway Corridor, Intrastate Route and meet the Federal Highway’s Strategic Plan, improve safety and improve access to existing and future industry.

“US 158 is important to Northampton County and the entire region,” Lewis said.

As far as the need for the project, Lewis stressed the LOS was the most critical area of concern. Saying that a LOS-A is the highest mark a road can receive and a LOS-F is the lowest, he stated that US 158 on the western end of the county will be a LOS-E by 2010 if no improvements are made. He added that if no improvements are made by 2030 to other sections of US 158, the LOS would fall into the D and E range.

The need also took into consideration motor vehicle accidents and fatal crashes along US 158 in Northampton County. He said US 158 has a fatal crash rate twice the average for roads in North Carolina of similar type, adding that a four-lane, median divided highway will help lower those numbers.

Additionally, the need will help increase the mobility and connectivity of travel to destinations within and just outside of North Carolina while helping foster economic prosperity and promoting environmental stewardship.

To meet the purpose and need, NCDOT plans improvements on existing portions of US 158 as well as a new roadway in some areas, all consisting of four, 12-foot lanes with paved shoulders separated by a 46-foot grass median. To minimize the use of traffic signals, the project will incorporate the use of “Super Street” configurations at all intersections involving rural roads. On the new portions of US 158, access will be limited to interchanges which will be placed at all major routes (US 301, NC 305 and NC 35). The lone exception will be proposed interchanges either on Galatia Road or Northampton-East Road within the Faison’s Old Tavern portion of the project.

Bypasses will be built around Garysburg, Jackson, Faison’s Old Tavern and Conway.

Right-of-way will be 250 feet in most areas. Lewis said right-of-way in excess of 250 feet would be required at the major interchanges.

As far as the project’s timetable is concerned, Lewis said DOT officials will meet internally and then with federal officials to select the best route for the project (there are 17 total alternatives along the expanse of the 32-mile project). He added that all comments recorded at a series of recent public hearings held in Northampton County will be taken into consideration during the route selection process.

“The route that has the lesser impact on human population and meets the purpose and need of the project will be viewed as the leading alternative,” Lewis said.

From that point, additional studies will be conducted on that one route, including one that judges environmental impact. Final maps will then be drawn.

Right-of-way is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2011. Construction could begin as early as 2016.