An N.C. Department of Transportation worker installs a 'Future 495' sign along U.S. 64.

NC DOT photo

An N.C. Department of Transportation worker installs a 'Future 495' sign along U.S. 64.

Measure would extend new interstate

The (Elizabeth City) Daily Advance

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Hoping to speed up business traffic between Raleigh and Norfolk – and create jobs along the way – North Carolina’s congressional delegation has introduced legislation to turn U.S. 17 and U.S. 64 into a future interstate highway.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, announced he was cosponsoring House Resolution 4829, a measure designating U.S. 17 and U.S. 64 as a future interstate highway. Butterfield, through whose district the interstate would run, said improving the roads to interstate quality would lead to a high-speed, uninterrupted corridor from Raleigh to the bustling ports in Virginia.

The legislation specifies the Raleigh-Norfolk interstate must go through Rocky Mount, Williamston and Elizabeth City. U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-3rd District, whose district also includes parts of both highways, is cosponsoring the bill, Butterfield said.

“(The legislation) will help connect Eastern North Carolina to our state’s capital and to one of the country’s premier ports in Hampton Roads,” Butterfield said. “Our vision to advance transportation in the region will reduce traffic congestion, improve access and pave the way for job creation and further economic development in North Carolina and Virginia.”

Other sponsors of the bill include five other members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation: U.S. Reps. David Price, Howard Coble, Mike McIntyre, Mark Meadows and Renee Ellmers.

The legislation doesn’t guarantee any immediate road funding, Butterfield spokeswoman Kim Atterbury said. What it does do is make both U.S. 17 and U.S. 64 priorities when it comes to allocating federal funds for federal road projects. It also requires that any improvements to either road be interstate quality.

That could generate a lot of business improving the two highways. Butterfield’s press release estimates that every $1 billion in transportation funding could support 30,000 jobs.

Pasquotank Commissioner Lloyd Griffin, who also is chairman of the 10-county Albemarle Rural Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Committee, welcomed the legislation Wednesday.

“The (interstate) would be a significant growth to Eastern North Carolina,” Griffin said.

Interstate highways appeal to businesses because they’re intended to be uninterrupted highways with 70 mph or higher speed limits, he said. U.S. 64 from I-95 to Williamston is already close to interstate-worthy, Griffin said, but U.S. 17 from Williamston to Elizabeth City will take a lot of work. There are stoplights and low-speed zones, including the road passing through Hertford in Perquimans County, that would need to be addressed.

Griffin said a Raleigh-to-Norfolk interstate would also have to address traffic congestion from the Virginia state line to Norfolk. The Virginia Department of Transportation is currently working to ease that congestion, Griffin said, but it won’t be enough. Because of that congestion, many companies currently use railroads instead of the roads to move their products, he added.

Wayne Harris, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, also welcomed the news. Proximity to an interstate highway is a vital concern for many businesses, he said, particularly warehouses and other businesses involved in distribution.

Atterbury said Butterfield’s interstate legislation has received a good reception so far from Republicans and Democrats alike.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, thanked Butterfield for introducing the measure, calling it “vitally important to economic development in the corridor between Raleigh and Norfolk.”

“Not only is this designation part of our future vision for transportation in our State, it is also key to attracting companies to North Carolina and expanding those that are already here,” he said in a prepared statement.

Virginia lawmakers are also on board with HR 4829, Atterbury said. The legislation is part of a much larger Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill, a priority for Congress this summer, she said.

Harris said he’s optimistic the legislation will gain traction, given the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce has strongly pushed developing interstates into Virginia. Butterfield’s release notes part of U.S. 64 from Raleigh to I-95 is already designated future interstate, and local officials report half of it’s already interstate-worthy.