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Interstate bid in the fast lane

Governor 2016 North Carolina-11

Gov. Pat McCrory


Shannon Keith

Friday, November 18, 2016

Talks of designating U.S. 264 as a future interstate have shifted into the fast lane after federal officials approved an application submitted by the state to change the highway’s designation. 

In a news release issued Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory announced that officials with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials approved the state's application to add U.S. 264 between Zebulon and Greenville to the Interstate Highway System as future Interstate 587. The application is under consideration by the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

McCrory directed officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation to submit the application in September.

"The state's application to designate U.S. 264 to Greenville as a future interstate has cleared a major hurdle in the approval process, which is a good indication that it will become a reality in the very near future,” McCrory said in the news release.

Local officials and state and federal legislators have been lobbying for the interstate designation for more than two years. In September, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat, and Walter B. Jones Jr., a Republican, introduced the Eastern North Carolina Gateway Act of 2016. The bipartisan legislation aims to improve eastern North Carolina’s highway system by designating portions of U.S. 264 as an interstate highway and create interstate access along U.S. 13 and N.C. 11.

For a highway to be designated an interstate, it must meet certain construction requirements that include:

* A minimum designated speed of 70 mph, with 50-60 mph acceptable in rolling terrain;

* A minimum of at least two lanes in each direction;

* A minimum lane width of 12 feet, which is the standard for most U.S. and state highways;

* A minimum outside paved shoulder width of 10 feet and inside shoulder width of 4 feet;

* A minimum median width of 36 feet in rural areas and 10 feet in urban or mountainous areas.

Roger Johnson, Greenville’s economic development manager, said U.S. 264 already is within 90 percent of interstate specifications.

“The roads almost are built to interstate standards,” Johnson said. “There are sections where some lanes will need to be widened, but U.S. 264 almost meets the federal standards now.”

Greenville is the 10th-largest city in North Carolina and the largest city in the state without an interstate highway. Receiving the interstate designation will help Greenville recruit new business and industries to the area, Johnson said.

“When a company is looking for potential sites to locate, one of the most important factors is interstate accessibility,” Johnson said. “Cities that don’t have an interstate often are crossed off the list immediately. This puts us back on those lists and allows us to compete for these jobs and industries.

“Those of us that live in the area know that U.S. 264 has good roads and that you can travel 70 mph on most of it,” Johnson said. “However, these businesses all over the country don’t know that. This designation now will let them know that we have the infrastructure they require.”

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com and 329-9575.