Officials hope grant will enhance city's gateway

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Improvements to the U.S. 301 corridor will take years of planning and multiple agency approvals prior to construction estimated to start in 2018.

Rodger Lentz, Wilson’s chief planning and development officer, told Wilson residents the project’s completion date, according to its $10 million federal grant requirement, is to fully finish the work by the summer of 2022.

“I think some people say that’s a long time,” Lentz said during a public meeting Wednesday. “In the world of road building, that is not a long time. Most projects in the state of North Carolina, from conception to construction, it takes over seven years.”

Lentz provided details of the project to nearly 70 residents during a meeting held at the Wilson Operations Center.

The city of Wilson’s $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, TIGER, grant will make possible long-awaited road improvements to one of the city’s oldest thoroughfares. Capturing the competitive grant was possible after the Wilson City Council agreed to provide nearly $3 million in matching funds and in-kind services, a move that wasn’t required but likely led to the award, Lentz said. The city was one of two in North Carolina approved for TIGER grant funding in 2015.

Work leading up to corridor improvements has already started and a grant agreement should be approved by the Federal Highway Administration the middle of the year. Engineering, design and construction will not be able to start until the agreement is approved, Lentz said.

“Once we get the grant agreement approved is when the design can begin,” he said. “We’ll spend 18 to 24 months in the design process.”

The bidding process, according to state and federal guidelines, will begin and be followed by construction.

“There’s multiple bodies that have to approve the project before it can actually be constructed,” Lentz said. “It will be a good 24 months, at least, before you will actually see construction happening, maybe even a little bit longer than that.”

The federal grant will pay for U.S. 301 corridor improvements, starting near the Wilson Community College Lee Campus at Lipscomb Road and U.S. 301. The project continues along a 1.2 mile section of U.S. 301 to Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Initially, city leaders sought about $18 million with plans to extend to Black Creek Road. City staff plan to continue seeking other funding, including through the N.C. Department of Transportation, to continue, eventually, to Black Creek Road.

“We asked for a little over $18 million, and we received $10 million,” Lentz said. “We had a 6 percent chance, and somehow, we were blessed to get the funding. The priority would be to go from the Lee campus to Martin Luther King Parkway to as far as we can get.”

The project includes the addition of raised medians, stormwater improvements, sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian improvements at intersections and a multiuse path.

“All of this is will be subject to approval and funding,” Lentz said. “Even if we have to stop, we will continue to look for funding.”

The city has applied for DOT funding for two projects, which could be determined in the next two or three months. Lentz said the TIGER grant must all be spent on the U.S. 301 project.

“The money must be spent on this corridor that was submitted,” he said. “All the money will be spent on the corridor.”

City staff were able to sell the project because of the proposal to connect area neighborhoods to Wilson Community College.

“This could not be sold as a road project,” Lentz said. “It was about redevelopment and economic development on this corridor.”

He also said that the improvements should help increase other economic development along and near the corridor.

“We hope it’s going to enhance the gateway to our city,” Lentz said.

rochelle@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818