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Major road widening projects on hold because of NCDOT budgetary constraints

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Cars wait at the intersection of Charles Boulevard and Fire Tower Road on Wednesday. A project to widen Fire Tower/Portertown roads from Arlington Boulevard to East 10th Street, scheduled to begin this year, has been delayed to fiscal year 2024.

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By Ginger Livingston
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Five major road-widening projects scheduled to begin in Greenville over the next two years are being delayed by up to four years because of ballooning costs associated with repairing disaster-related damages to the state road system and to settle a lawsuit, the North Carolina Department of Transportation announced.

The transportation department also expects to lay off hundreds of temporary and contract workers to cover costs, The Associated Press reported. It’s unclear how many people will be laid off but the department is reviewing more than 1,000 positions, according to the AP.

It is unsure much money will be saved, Chief Operating Officer Bobby Lewis said. He added the state hopes to rehire some workers next year.

Between fiscal years 2004 and 2016 the state Department of Transportation spent an average of $66 million on weather-related disaster recovery, said Greenville developer Thomas Taft Jr., an at-large member of the state Board of Transportation.

“In the three years since, we’ve averaged $220 million (annually) on disaster recovery,” Taft said.

Lewis said the state is facing $300 million in disaster-related repairs in the current fiscal year.

“Whether we want to debate what, how or who is responsible things are shifting and we are all paying more for it,” he said. “The weather patterns are changing and we are all paying more.”

The Greenville area projects being affected by the delay are:

Evans Street/Old Tar Road widening from Worthington Road to Greenville Boulevard, scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2021, has been delayed to fiscal year 2024.

Dickinson Avenue modernization project from Memorial Drive to Reade Circle, scheduled to begin this fiscal year, has been delayed to fiscal year 2022.

Fire Tower/Portertown roads widening from Arlington Boulevard to East 10th Street, scheduled to begin this year, is delayed to fiscal year 2024.

Allen Road widening from Stantonsburg Road to Dickinson Avenue extension, scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2021, is delayed to fiscal year 2024.

14th Street widening from Fire Tower Road to Greenville Boulevard, scheduled to begin fiscal year 2021, is delayed to fiscal year 2024.

Details about the delays were released last week when the state Department of Transportation released the final draft of its 2020-29 State Transportation Improvement Program, a 10-year-transportation plan that is updated every two years.

The overall statewide list includes 1,319 highway projects, as well as 86 aviation, 234 bike and pedestrian, six ferry, 23 public transit and 50 rail projects selected on statewide, regional and division levels, according to a transportation department news release. The draft plan includes 385 changes in highway projects. The news release doesn’t state how many changes involved project delays.

The state transportation board is expected to consider final approval of the plan at its September meeting

“No one is more disappointed than the staff and the board members for any project delays,” Taft said. “It’s certainly going to cause some headaches for local drivers and some local businesses but Greenville and Pitt County has always succeeded despite often being overlooked by Raleigh and will continue to (do so).”

The issue that Taft, local elected leaders and transportation professional will wrestle with in the coming months is problems road surfaces that need immediate repairs.

“There are certainly some roads that can’t wait four years to get something down to them and Dickinson is a great example of that,” Taft said. “We will be pushing really hard for a resurfacing project along Dickinson Avenue prior to the larger streetscape and surfacing project.”

Dickinson Avenue’s 1.3-mile deteriorating stretch of pavement is riddled with patched potholes.

The transportation department plans to remove the pavement and road bed to repair the existing drainage systems, replace the materials under the pavement and repave the roadway. The city will fund pedestrian and bicycle facilities and improvements to street lighting and the surrounding streetscape.

The city set aside nearly $1.8 million in its current budget to fund its portion of the project.

The city also set aside nearly $1.7 million to fund sidewalk construction for the other road widening projects.

“Certainly we understand it will be difficult for the city because we are seeing significant growth in areas and we need to provide proper movement and flow of traffic,” Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin said. The Evans Street project is important for lessening congestion improving safety for commuters traveling from the Winterville area to Greenville Boulevard, he said.

“We would like to see these improvements move as quickly as possible but they are state streets and the state dictates the funding and the priority there,” Cowin said. “All we can do for the citizens of Greenville is to be vocal and make sure the state hears how important the projects are to us.”

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