– by Joe Milazzo II, PE, RTA Executive Director
The Regional Transportation Alliance business coalition has been at the forefront of a decade-long push to authorize a new Interstate freeway corridor from Raleigh to coastal Virginia.
Two years ago this month, we achieved our first taste of victory when Governor McCrory announced the approval of the future I-495 corridor from Raleigh to Rocky Mount at our 2013 annual meeting. I-495 signs were posted between Raleigh/I-440 and Knightdale/I-540 in spring 2014, along with future I-495 signs between Knightdale and Rocky Mount/I-95.
Earlier this month, President Obama signed the federal “FAST” transportation funding act. That bill clarified the high priority corridor routing for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor via Rocky Mount, Williamston, and Elizabeth City, and then formally authorized the future Interstate designation for the entire corridor from Raleigh to coastal Virginia.
The future Interstate designation from Raleigh to the Hampton Roads region of Virginia will be I-44, I-50, I-89, I-56, or another suitable two-digit number. Whatever the number, the designation will begin in east Raleigh at or along I-440, and end in coastal Virginia at Chesapeake (at I-64), Norfolk (at I-264), or Virginia Beach (at the end of I-264 at Birdneck Rd.).
This new authorization by Congress of a future Interstate for the US 64 and 17 corridors between Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Williamston, Elizabeth City, and coastal Virginia sends a clear signal to developers and economic prospects that this corridor’s future is an Interstate freeway.
For Raleigh and the capital area, this authorization will allow our market to get our second two-digit (i.e., primary) Interstate, and that will help with both economic development and tourism.
Given the fact that every county along the corridor east of I-95 has been designated a tier one (most distressed) county by NC Commerce, this authorization could not be more timely in terms of helping to attract future job creators to northeastern North Carolina in addition to our growing Triangle area.
Indeed, for many of these counties, this future Interstate corridor is the only plausible way that they could have Interstate access in the foreseeable future. It will quite literally put them on the map from an economic development standpoint, from eastern Nash County to Camden County at the Virginia border.
Of course, the future Interstate effort alone will not solve all of the economic challenges facing northeastern North Carolina, but it can certainly help, by providing an economic lifeline to counties that need it and link urban, suburban, and rural job centers together.
We have previously called this initiative a bipartisan gift to our children’s future prosperity. With the entire NC Congressional delegation in support of the source bills, along with several members of the VA delegation, it is clearly bipartisan. While it will take many years to fully upgrade the corridor, the future Interstate authorization should make it easier for communities and NCDOT to focus their transportation investments and priorities along the corridor.
As I noted last year, kudos to the bipartisan support at the federal, state, and local level for this initiative. A new Interstate designation will be the next step in a century of investment along the corridor, serving a region whose greatest days are still to come.
Before I forget — the federal FAST bill also includes a future Interstate authorization for the US 70 corridor from Garner to Morehead City. That corridor, which will be called I-46 or another suitable designation, will travel from I-40 at the Wake/Johnston county line to Morehead City near the state port.
Let’s get moving,