GREENVILLE — Officials in Greenville want to see several U.S. highways in the area turned into freeways even through the roads don't head through the city at all.
Federal and state lawmakers are asking for money to turn U.S. 64 and 17 from Raleigh to Norfolk, Virginia, and U.S. 70 from Raleigh to Morehead City into interstate highways.
Changes in the way the state allocates money for roads and a more modern, interconnected society means if the new roads help out the eastern North Carolina region, they will help out Greenville too, Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas said.
"We have to get over the mentality that eastern North Carolina is a one-horse town. Greenville is the strategically-positioned hinge point for both port destinations," Thomas told The Daily Reflector of Greenville (http://bit.ly/1iJbjJF ).
Plus, Greenville already has good highways that connect to the roads talked about for expansion, North Carolina Department of Transportation Engineer John Rouse said. Combine those new roads with U.S. Highway 264, which is an expressway all the way to Raleigh, and Greenville can see a lot of benefits, Rouse said.
"Greenville is in kind of a sweet spot because the improvements along U.S. 70 will help its connectivity to Morehead, plus it sits in reasonably close proximity to the huge Virginia Tidewater port of Norfolk," he said.
Both major highway projects are being studied. A consultant's report last week said improving U.S. 70 from the port in Morehead City to Raleigh could help drive economic development for the state for decades.
Providing a good road network south and west from the booming areas in the Virginia Tidewater could also help North Carolina get some of that growth, said Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose district would contain most of the highway. He sponsored a bill to improve the highways to interstate standards along with Republican U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr.
"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," Butterfield said.