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U.S. 301 project could boost development

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Although a few years away from construction, the more than $20 million planned expansion of U.S. 301 in Rocky Mount between May Drive and N.C. 43/48 could be a potential driver for economic development in the area.

Carolinas Gateway Partnership President and CEO Norris Tolson said anything that can be done to improve U.S. 301 and help the Partnership’s capability to recruit industries or help grow existing businesses is welcome news.

“Every client that we talk to here wants to know what is your road capability and your railroad capability,” Tolson said. “They want to know what is my accessibility and visibility – meaning if I’m locating on U.S. 301, will people be able to see me? Also, it comes down to how do you get goods into the plant so you can manufacture something, and how you get out of here so you can sell it. Another thing is a widened U.S. 301 gives a company an improved capability of getting people to work.”

N.C. Transportation Board member Gus Tulloss, who represents District 4 that includes Nash and Edgecombe counties, said one of the priorities companies have when looking to relocate in an area is proximity to an interstate highway.

“I recently had a conversation with a board member in Raleigh who is from the western part of North Carolina, and he said we can’t recruit industry or they don’t want to talk to us because we don’t have any interstate highways in that area,” Tulloss said. “When business recruiters come around and look at five to 10 sites, the first thing they try to do is eliminate you. One of the top things they look at is how close are you to an interstate. If you aren’t, then they don’t even ask you the next questions. With U.S. 301, U.S. 64 and Interstate 95 running through Rocky Mount, it’s just a great recruiting tool and industries know their trucks can go in and out.”

N.C. Department of Transportation Communication Officer Jennifer Heiss said a contract is scheduled to be awarded for the U.S. 301 project in late fall 2017.

She added construction is slated to begin in early 2018 and the project is slated to take three years for completion.

The project was proposed in 1994, identified as a need and added to the state Transportation Improvement Program. The project was approved for federal funding and finalized last summer on the recent state Transportation Improvement Program’s project list.

Heiss said the estimated construction cost of the project is $25.5 million, and more than $3 million has been spent on planning, design and right of way. Tulloss said when the project is completed, the estimated cost will be around $37 million.

DOT officials said the purpose of the project is to improve safety and increase capacity of the heavily utilized corridor.

The project also will widen US 301 from four to six lanes with a hybrid superstreet design, which removes breaks in the medians for all mid-block cut overs and eliminates left turns at some signals.

N.C. DOT Division 4 Engineer Tim Little said it’s important to improve safety on U.S. 301 because there have been 233 crashes involving 103 injuries and one fatality along the highway from May Drive to N.C. 43/48 in the past five years.

“The Rocky Mount Metropolitan Planning Organization has made this a priority and we agree with that assessment,” Heiss said. “U.S. 301 is a strategic corridor for the state and improvement in mobility, which this project does, is a goal of NCDOT. The project will ease congestion by widening the lanes, which will make U.S. 301 safer in this area. Improvements on roadway of these type often spur new development.”

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