GREENVILLE, NC— Roughly 150 business and civic leaders from across eastern North Carolina have attended the 2018 Coastal NC Transportation Forum at the Greenville Hilton Inn, Tuesday, July 24.
Throughout the day, a multitude of speakers discussed topics on various transportation developments in eastern North Carolina, all relating to an expectation for accelerated economic growth and job creation across the region.
Dr. Paula Dowell, principal and director of economics at Cambridge Systematic, started off by relating the importance of interstate highways in lowering logistics costs of business, their relative importance in site location decisions and the anticipated economic impact of converting existing four-lane highways US 70 and US64/17 to Interstates 42 & 87., These projects will likely result in thousands of new jobs annually and boost personal incomes. She also referenced the planned improvements scheduled for I-95 around Fayetteville as part of a $147 million federal grant to improve access in eastern NC. The grant will also result in laying fiber optic, high-speed internet cable along the I-42 corridor as well as upgrading the corridor to interstate-quality.
The rest of the morning included Tim Little, NCDOT Chief Engineer standing in for Durwood Stephenson, Director of the Interstate Corridor 42 Commission who reviewed several projects that will effectively convert US Highway 70 to an interstate-quality corridor from I-95 past Havelock by 2027, and Mr. Marc Finlayson Director of Highway 17/64 Association that provided information on planned improvements to US64/17 (I-87) stating 17 of 29 projects worth $2.2 billion listed in the 2018-2027 STIP were considered fully or partially deliverable by 2027 Key US17 projects funded include: Maysfield Bypass in Jones County (completion by 2019), Washington to Williamston upgrade to four-lane divided highway (by 2022).
Paul Cozza, Executive Director of NC Ports Authority, informed attendees on investments at the Port of Morehead City (POMC) and the importance of North Carolina’s inland Waterways and their combined impact on the regional economy. Cozza revealed that tonnage at POMC increased 75% over last five years that was driven by a diverse array of break bulk cargo. NC Ports currently support roughly 11,000 jobs in the NCEast Alliance footprint.
The last morning speaker was Allen Thomas, Executive Director of NC Global TransPark, who provided insight into the future of the intermodal industrial park and the recently completed strategic plan to guide its development and marketing efforts. Spirit AeroSystem remains the largest employer at the park and recently announced a $53 million expansion to produce center fuselage sections and wing spars for the Airbus XWB350.
After lunch, Gen. (ret.) Jim Trogdon, Secretary of the NC Department of Transportation, provided an overview of transportation issues facing North Carolina and how the BuildNC Bonds would accelerate eastern NC projects. Secretary Trogdon reported the Department had changed the way projects are managed, conducting simultaneous environmental studies and environmental impact assessments to shorten project timelines from an average of 10 years to 3 years, allowing an acceleration of project delivery and saving taxpayer money. It has also allowed NCDOT to dramatically reduce the backlog of projects.
Carolinas Gateway Partnership CEO Norris Tolson updated the audience on the revived CSX Transportation intermodal rail hub planned for Rocky Mount. Although it is reduced in size and scope, the $158 million project will be developed on a 330-acre site, employ roughly 30 operators and handle up to 110,000 containers per year after in opens in 2020.
The day concluded with a presentation by Ryan Purtle (Greenville MPO director) on the Eastern NC Freight Mobility Study that will cover 28 counties, 10 Metropolitan and Rural Planning (MPO/RPO) areas, and three NCDOT Divisions. The study will be funded by NCDOT, all the MPOs and RPOs and the NCEast Alliance; it should be completed within one year and will provide local and regional economic developers useful data and suggestions on opportunities.
For more information on the event along with speaker bios and presentations, please visit https://www.nceast.org/press/events/ .