Long-awaited improvements to the U.S. 301 corridor may not be visible for at least two years for what is expected to be a multi-year project.
Improvements will be possible following the city’s federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant award of $10 million, announced in late October.
Kimberly Van Dyk, Wilson’s planning and community development revitalization director, told the Wilson Rotary Club Monday that the next two years will involve engineering work that will set the stage for physical improvements.
“This is a long project,” she said. “It could take from now until 2022 to get completed.
“The engineering work will probably take two years. You won’t actually see any physical work or any construction being done for at least two years from now, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t working hard on it.”
The city will have to coordinate with DOT at the federal and state levels and decisions will need to be made regarding the extent of the improvements. Originally, the project was estimated to cost $18.6 million and included the U.S. 301 corridor from Lipscomb Road to Black Creek Road.
The Wilson City Council agreed to match the $10 million grant with $3 million and to perform some of the work at its own expense, during last-minute negotiations before the grant was approved.
“The project that we submitted for was actually an $18 million project,” Van Dyk said. “The plans are that it would run from Lipscomb all the way down to Black Creek Road. It’s kind of amazing to think that just a little over a mile of improvements is about $18 million dollars.”
The largest cost is related to roadway, shoulder, curb and gutter infrastructure improvements, which would also address flooding problems for the area, she said.
From Lipscomb Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., infrastructure costs are estimated at $2.5 million. From MLK Boulevard to Black Creek Road, the same infrastructure improvements are estimated at $3.4 million. The U.S. 301 corridor has aging infrastructure.
“It is an older road,” Van Dyk said. “It was built as a main highway, but it’s not used as a main highway any more. It’s really used as a local road, even though we don’t own it.”
The highway improvement project has three main goals — to improve area infrastructure, reduce flooding and increase safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.
“The road, currently as it exists, is really unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists and, in fact, it is unsafe for motorists as well,” Van Dyk said. “It has a very high crash rate. One of the things we’re thinking about with these improvements is making to roadway safer for cars, trucks, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.”
The U.S. 301 corridor improvement project includes the addition of a multi-use path along U.S. 301, which can be used by cyclists and pedestrians. Also, improvements to three main intersections and the addition of medians.
The project is also planned to encourage new investment and development, and the application includes the addition of sidewalks to connect to Wilson Community College’s Lee Campus. The sidewalks are designed to provide residents with better access to job-training opportunities.
One of the reasons the city rose to the top during the competitive grant application process was because of the project’s ability to connect residents to future job opportunities.
“One of the reasons we scored so well with this grant opportunity is because we were able to say, ‘if we can make these improvements to this roadway, it will provide opportunities for people in this section of our community to much more easily and safely access both the job training opportunities and the jobs,’” Van Dyk said.
“We anticipate that this project will create more ladders of economic opportunity in our community for our residents, and I think that’s something we can be really proud of.”
The city’s “U.S. 301: Road to Opportunity” grant is part of $500 million in TIGER grants approved nationwide in 2015. Wilson was one of two cities approved for funding in North Carolina. The city of Charlotte was also approved to receive $25 million.