Council: Build I-87 with bike trail
By Jon Hawley
Monday, December 17, 2018
Elizabeth City City Council has endorsed developing the future Interstate 87 in tandem with a bicycle trail intended to span from Maine to Florida.
In a unanimous vote, council last week approved sending a letter to the N.C. Department of Transportation in support of the East Coast Greenway, asking that part of it run alongside I-87. The city's letter will be added to comments that DOT is collecting on the feasibility study for I-87, which would run along U.S. Highway 64 and U.S. Highway 17 to better connect Raleigh to Norfolk, Virginia.
The East Coast Greenway is a proposed, non-motorized trail that would run some 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida, according to the nonprofit pursuing it, the East Coast Greenway Alliance. The alliance, formed in 1991, is aiming to complete one-third of the trail this year, spokeswoman Lisa Watts said in an interview. The alliance is completing the trail in various segments; the longest contiguous section is in Maine, Deputy Director Niles Barnes added.
Barnes also explained the group is proposing two routes through North Carolina: a 372-mile spine running through the Triangle, and a roughly 400-mile “Historic Coastal Route” that would run through Elizabeth City.
In presenting the Historic Coastal Route to city councilors last week, Community Development Director Matthew Schelly said the greenway segments are great assets in communities that have them. The completed greenway will be “the Intracoastal Waterway for bicycles,” he said. The trail would offer a local recreation asset while attracting tourists and their spending, he said.
Schelly also noted the trail is proposed to go right through Elizabeth City's downtown.
The trail would tie into the Dismal Swamp Trail, but it has gaps, including from the Virginia state line and then from South Mills to Main Street Extended.
Schelly also told council the trail might help speed development of I-87. That's because the trail would add another mode of transportation to local I-87 projects, helping it score more favorably when it comes to funding decisions.
However, Schelly added, DOT still plans to fund I-87 work separately from any trail improvements.
Council approved the letter to DOT unanimously.
The Albemarle Regional Planning Organization is a multi-county agency working with DOT on planning I-87. In a phone interview last week, ARPO Director Angela Welsh said she has already met with a greenway representative to discuss the path of Historic Coastal Route. She said that meeting was open to local officials, but few attended, so she's looking to hold more meetings next year. Currently, the route doesn't extend to the Outer Banks, she noted.
While welcoming the trail, Welsh said she’s not sure how much adding a “multi-modal” element to I-87 would help spur its development.
For more information on the Greenway Trail Alliance and the Historic Coastal Route, go to www.greenway.org.