Local road projects rank high in priority

Published 9:08 am Thursday, March 18, 2010

As far as regional priorities go regarding highway projects, several major roadways throughout the Roanoke-Chowan area rank high on the list.

On March 4, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said it was changing the way it decides which projects to fund across the state. NCDOT has released lists that prioritize nearly 2,000 projects, as well as the data used to create the rankings. The data include factors such as pavement condition, traffic congestion levels and crash rates.

Within the NCDOT Division One (covering 14 counties in northeastern North Carolina) plans are 29 projects, ranked in order on a strategic prioritization list. Number two on that list is to widen, to multi-lanes, US 13 from US 158 at Winton in Hertford County to Tar Heel Barbecue in Gates County.

That plan is part of a three-stage widening project for US 13 in Gates County. The other two stages are multi-lanes from Gates School Road to the Virginia state line (#19 on the list) and from Tar Heel Barbecue to Gates School Road (prioritized at #20).

Ahoskie Bypass

Another major project along US 13, the much-debated Ahoskie Bypass, ranks among the top eleven. That project is divided into four phases, listed as follows in order of priority:

TIP # R-2205D – from SR 1408 (Saluda Hall Rd.) to US 158 at Winton (#5 on the list).

TIP # R-2205B – from SR 1418 (Arrow Rd.) to Catherine Creek Rd. (#7)

TIP# R-2205C – from Catherine Creek Rd. to Saluda Hall Rd. (#8)

TIP # R-2205A – from NC 42 at Powellsville to Arrow Rd. (#11)

Each of the four phases calls for US 13 to be widened to multi-lanes with the bypass placed on a new location.

While the Ahoskie Bypass project description on the DOT’s strategic prioritization Web site actually listed the aforementioned information, DOT Project Engineer Jay McInnis said the actual route of the bypass has yet to be determined.

“No route has been selected for the proposed bypass,” McInnis wrote in an e-mail reply to questions posed by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. “We won’t select an alternative until after we have completed our environmental studies, published the draft environmental impact statement and held a public hearing.”

He continued, “The project breakdown for R-2205A, B, C and D is based on the study from the ’90s, which only looked at alternatives on the east side of Ahoskie. The descriptions for the various sections would have to change if we ended up selecting an alternative on the west or an alternative on the east that didn’t cross some of those roads.”

Stating a figure from the 2009-2015 STIP, McInnis said that document shows the cost of the Ahoskie Bypass project at $110,312,000.

Another local project for US 13 calls to widen the road, to multi lanes, from US 13 Business north of Windsor to NC 42 at Powellsville. That project ranks #23 on the list.

US 158 projects

Also included in the DOT Division One priorities are several projects for US 158.

Topping that list (ranked at #6) is to widen, to multi lanes, US 158 from the Murfreesboro Bypass to US 13 just west of Winton. Part of that project, which is currently in the planning/design phase, will be built on a new location.

US 158 in Northampton County is also mentioned in the strategic prioritization list. Those projects, listed in order of priority) are as follows:

TIP #R-2582B – Widen, to multi lanes, US 158/NC 46 from SR 1312 (St. John Church Rd.) to SR 1333 (Lynch Rd.) east of Jackson with a bypass of Jackson (#10 on the list).

TIP #R-2582A – Widen, to multi lanes, US 158/NC 46 from I-95 to St. John Church Rd. (#12).

TIP #R-2582C – Widen, to multi lanes, US 158 from SR 1365 to the Murfreesboro Bypass with a bypass of Conway (#16).

TIP #R-2584B – Widen, to multi lanes, US 158 from east of SR 1500 to east of SR 1365 with a bypass of Conway (#17).

TIP #R-2584A – Widen, to multi lanes, US 158 from SR 1333 (Mt. Carmel Rd./Severn Rd. east of Jackson) to east of SR 1500 with a bypass of Conway (#18).

The plans for all of these projects calls for some of the construction on a new location.

In Gates County, there are planned improvements to US 158. Ranking #21 on the list is to widen, to multi lanes, US 158 from NC 32 in Sunbury east to US 17 at Morgan’s Corner in Pasquotank County. The other portion of that project – widen, to multi lanes, US 158 from NC 32 in Sunbury west to US 13 at Tarheel Barbecue – ranks #25 on the list.

NC 11

While some in the Ahoskie area and western portions of Bertie County feel that improvements to NC 11 should take priority over the US 13 Ahoskie Bypass, the new DOT strategy ranks the four-laning of NC 11 low on their list.

According to the list, the widening, to multi lanes, of NC 11 from NC 903 in Martin County to US 13 north of Ahoskie ranks #26 out of 29 total projects.

New process

Earlier this month, NCDOT held outreach meetings with local leaders, transportation planners and citizens in Graham, Hickory and Kinston. Department engineers explained the new process, unveiled the lists of prioritized projects and answered questions about the rankings.

The new project selection method will allow NCDOT to deliver the projects in its work plan on time and on budget. Under the previous process, only 60 percent of projects were started and completed as scheduled. With the new approach, the goal is to increase that rate to 95 percent.

The new process also relies heavily on input from local transportation planning organizations. NCDOT asked these groups to prioritize projects in their areas and submit them to the department. The department used their input to help generate the lists.

“This new approach to project selection shows that we’re dedicated to taking old-fashioned politics out of our decision-making process,” NC Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said. “By basing our choices on proven facts, we ensure that our limited funding is used wisely to meet North Carolina’s most pressing transportation needs.”

NCDOT looked at more than 1,100 potential highway construction projects across the state and gave each one a score, based on a set formula. The projects with the highest scores were placed at the top of the priority list. The list and spreadsheet showing how each project’s score was calculated are now available on the department’s strategic prioritization Web site, www.ncdot.gov/performance/reform/documents/, at the bottom of the page.

The next steps in the process include examining the scores and applying financial and scheduling constraints to them. Those constraints include compliance with federal and state laws regarding funding distribution and air quality standards, as well as considering which projects are technically ready.

Currently, the department’s needs total $54 billion, but it has only $10.5 billion in available revenue to spend to meet those needs. That is why fiscal constraints are so important. After applying them, NCDOT will use the results to generate a new list, called the Draft State Transportation Improvement Program, which will show the projects NCDOT can afford to fund from 2015-2020.

The Draft STIP will be part of the department’s 10-year work program. The N.C. Board of Transportation is expected to adopt it in June.

After the Draft STIP is adopted, NCDOT will take it back out to the public for further comment. It will then make changes as necessary and recommend a final plan to the board for adoption in June 2011.

NCDOT welcomes input from the community on the new project selection process. Anyone wanting to share comments can do so by clicking on the “Contact Us” link at the Web site listed above.