I-87 work part of DOT's 10-year plan


A sign indicating the future Interstate 87 is seen off US Highway 17 just north of Elizabeth City, Sunday, July 2.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, July 3, 2017

In another small step toward making “Interstate 87” a reality, the NC Department of Transportation is planning to start upgrades to US Highway 17 north of Elizabeth City within the next decade.

In a release last week, DOT announced it’s added 144 transportation projects to the latest draft of the state’s 10-year transportation plan; it’s also planning to accelerate numerous other projects.

The additional projects include upgrading US highways 17 and 158 north of Elizabeth City to the Virginia state line to interstate standards. DOT officials could not be reached for details on the project last week, but DOT’s draft transportation plan, available online, shows the project will span 13 miles — only a portion of the entire distance between Elizabeth City and Virginia — and cost approximately $187,000.

Though the project is a small part of the eventual interstate from Raleigh to Norfolk, it’s good news for the area, Albemarle Rural Planning Organization Director Angela Welsh said Friday. The ARPO works with DOT and counties in the region to develop and prioritize road projects.

Welsh said the project is included in the latter five years of the plan, meaning it’s not funded yet. Counties will need to continue to prioritize the project in coming years to secure funding for it, she said.

The project would include widening the road to allow 70-mph speed limits, she said, but she added it’s unclear whether and how it would address the stoplight at the Morgans Corner intersection. Interstates are supposed to provide uninterrupted, high-speed highways and, in turn, attract businesses who need their goods transported at consistently quick speed.

Welsh also said DOT continues working on a feasibility study to plan the entire I-87 route. The plan should be done this fall, she said, and should shed light on how to resolve stoplights and other bottlenecks from Raleigh to Norfolk. Presumably, it will also address how to develop the route around Hertford, where officials are concerned about the interstate bypassing the town.

Whatever the final design of I-87, local and state officials have said it could take 20 years or more to fully build.

Pasquotank County Manager Rodney Bunch also welcomed the news on Friday, commenting that even partial interstate development in northern Pasquotank/Camden would be good for the area, and help attract more businesses to the counties’ nearby commerce parks.

In another, unrelated project added to the transportation plan, DOT also announced it plans to purchase a new sound-class ferry to replace the M/V Silver Lake that serves the Ocracoke-Cedar Island and Ocracoke-Swan Quarter routes.

DOT also reported the new plan will accelerate “safety and modernization” work on US 17 in Pasquotank from Church Street to US 17 Business. It will start in 2023 instead of 2025, the release states.