Area officials: I-87 plan OK so far
By Miles Layton
Sunday, September 10, 2017
EDENTON — Local officials say they like what they see in a preliminary feasibility study of a proposed interstate highway project that would link Raleigh and Norfolk, Virginia.
Officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation displayed maps for the proposed I-87 project during a meeting in Edenton last week. A draft of the project — which is expected to include highway passing through Rocky Mount, Williamston, Edenton, Hertford and Elizabeth City — should be released this winter.
“This plan will bring your speed limit up to 70 mph, make it safe and you'll get more traffic and that should boost your economy as well,” said Shane York, DOT feasibility studies engineer. “GPS devices will send more traffic through this corridor instead of rerouting though I-95, which means more economic development.”
Marc Finlayson, a New Bern-based consultant who serves as executive director of the US-17/64 Highway Association, called the maps “a really important step toward getting a fully controlled access” highway.
“I-87 is a really great economic development project as well as a great safety and mobility project for the people of northeastern North Carolina,” he said. “As our association has evolved, we have embraced this idea of the Raleigh to Norfolk interstate because we've always wanted to see U.S. (Highway) 17 improved to the fullest extent possible and this does that in a big way.”
Preliminary draft plans for I-87 show a larger interchange at the intersection U.S. 17 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Chowan County. York said interchange access at that juncture needs to be bigger to comply with federal standards. Also, there may be new interchange at Davenport Lane and Haughton Road.
Jeff Smith, chairman of the Chowan Board of Commissioners, was impressed with the plans.
“I think it is going to be one of the biggest things that is going to happen to Chowan County for economic development in probably my lifetime,” Smith said. “When this gets done and gets approved, it will be a great boom for economic development here.
A lifelong farmer, Smith said he is glad the highway proposals make an accommodation that allows for the viable transport of farm equipment by widening the shoulders in Chowan County.
“I'm good with what they want to do — the shoulders will help farmers,” he said. “I really feel like we are safer on the four-lane roads where you don't have to dip around because there is big enough shoulder and there are no mailboxes for us to dodge around. We can get over to the shoulder and the equipment is out of the way.”
Chowan Commissioner John Mitchener said he believes there real interest from state officials in making I-87 a reality. He, too, sees a large economic development potential in having an interstate highway come through Chowan.
“During the last year or so, we've heard about all the warehousing capacity in Norfolk with all the imports that come in there,” he said. “The point they made was that the land up there is so expensive that they can not expand warehouses to handle this additional inventory. From their standpoint, they want to go across the state line into North Carolina where you can build warehouses less expensively so as to expand the impact of the port of Norfolk. Critical to getting them going across the state line is for us to provide improved road facilities so that product can be moved and located to different parts of the East Coast more expeditiously than it is now.”
Chowan County Manager Kevin Howard said highway plans don't call for many changes that will affect traffic patterns in Chowan County.
“It's not much different from what we already have,” he said. “The folks over in Hertford and Windsor are where the big changes are going to be.”
In Perquimans County, the current plans call for adding a diamond interchange and service road to an existing three-lane area on U.S. 17, and as motorists get closer to Hertford, there will be a full clover leaf interchange on Church Street near a major business district. The plans call for keeping the existing bridge across the Perquimans River. Also, another three-lane intersection would be upgraded to a partial clover leaf followed by a complicated interchange in the northern end of the county.
“I don't know what the interchanges will do as far as access to existing businesses, but I was happy to see that there is no bypass involved,” said Hertford Town Manager Brandon Shoaf. “We do lose direct access to another key intersection at Wynne Fork/U.S. 17, but that may be good from a safety standpoint.”
DOT plans to hold a second meeting on plans for I-87 Sept. 19 at Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. The meeting will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.