NCDOT mulls I-87 route to Currituck
By William F. West
Sunday, October 8, 2017
CAMDEN — Should the proposed new Interstate 87 be aligned with U.S. Highway 17 as it travels through Camden County into Chesapeake, Virginia, or should it veer northeastward through northern Currituck before heading into Chesapeake?
That was a topic of discussion for Camden commissioners during a meeting with a N.C. Department of Transportation official last week.
Commissioners met with Shane York, a feasibility studies engineer with NCDOT, about the proposed new interstate highway that, should it be funded, would link Raleigh and Norfolk, Virginia, by traveling through Rocky Mount, Williamston, Edenton, Hertford and Elizabeth City.
York advised Camden officials that late last year, Currituck County officials contacted NCDOT about the prospect of routing I-87 through northern Currituck into Virginia instead along the current path of U.S. 17 into Virginia.
"We would like you to give us a cost estimate for that, too, as a possible alternate," York said, quoting Currituck officials.
York said Currituck’s request had “some political pull.” He said it was his understanding that Virginia's transportation secretary has also expressed interest in routing I-87 through northern Currituck, instead of following following the current path of U.S. 17. As a result, an alternate route for I-87, featuring an east-west connector through northern Currituck, is part of the drawings for the proposed highway.
Camden interim Manager Stephanie Humphries made clear the county supports the connector into northern Currituck, provided there’s no detrimental effect to planning and development in Camden. County officials want assurances from NCDOT that an I-87 through Camden would feature easy access to both the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center and the Dismal Swamp State Park, both key assets for Camden. They also want assurances that there won't be any harm to commercial and industrial sites or proposed residential development sites in northern Camden.
As proposed, the east-west connector would begin east of U.S. 17, just above the welcome center and the state park in northern Camden. It would extend just below the state line into northern Currituck, site of that county’s proposed Moyock Mega-Site commercial and residential project.
From there, the connector would travel slightly northeast into Virginia, linking with Virginia Highway 168 through a proposed interchange just north of the Border Station convenience store. Virginia 168 is a short segment of stop-and-go roadway before it becomes the tolled Chesapeake Expressway and a connector to Interstates 64 and 464.
Camden Economic Development Director Charlie Bauman indicated he was a little concerned about the proposed east-west connector through Currituck, given that the whole point of I-87 is to speed traffic between Norfolk and Raleigh.
Bauman said he believes having I-87 aligned with both U.S. 17 and Dominion Boulevard on through to I-64 and I-464 is "the shortest distance between two points."
"That's why we're a little confused about wanting to route traffic through a connector into Virginia and dumping it into the Chesapeake Expressway," he said.
Bauman said he believes traffic also would want to travel the shortest route.
"Consumer traffic is really going to, we think, travel that route, instead of going round the elbow" to get to I-64 and I-464, he told York.
Camden Board of Commissioners Chairman Clayton Riggs said he, too, believes I-87 needs to feature the most direct route to the Port of Virginia.
"It makes a lot more sense to go straight up 17 than it does to come through the connector road to go to the port," he said.
Camden Commissioner Garry Meiggs, however, said he believes the closest route depends on which port a trucker is driving toward because Hampton Roads has multiple ports.
Asked last month whether the city of Chesapeake has a position on which route I-87 should go, spokeswoman Karen Meyers said in an email that Chesapeake hasn’t weighed in on a specific location yet. Nonetheless, the city believes I-87 should generally follow U.S. 17 and Dominion Boulevard to I-64 and I-464, she said.
Virginia Transportation Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick said in an email Friday that Virginia Department of Transportation have discussed the proposed I-87 with their counterparts in North Carolina.
“We have also discussed the corridor with NCDOT leadership about a year ago,” Kilpatrick said. “They made us aware of this east-west connector option and the connection to Virginia Route 168 near the state line.”
Asked if he had any preference about the route for I-87, he indicated VDOT isn’t close to any decision yet.
“We have not yet engaged the interested parties regarding potential alignments. We are just beginning the study process,” he said.
Much of York’s meeting with Camden officials centered on how I-87 would affect access to both the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center and the Dismal Swamp State Park. Current plans for I-87 call for its construction just east of U.S. 17 in the area of the welcome center and the park.
Nortbound I-87 traffic would get to the welcome center and the park by exiting at an interchange at McPherson Road. Soundbound I-87 traffic would exit onto the current U.S. 17 alignment to get to the welcome center and the park.
Welcome Center Director Donna Stewart, who participated in the meeting, said the center would like to see an interchange as easy as possible for motorists to navigate. She has good reason for wanting easy access.
Welcome center data show slightly more than 26,400 people sought information or directions at the center in 2016. Traffic counts also show nearly 673,600 people visited the site in 2016. That number is determined from a formula that counts two to three people in each visiting vehicle.
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