The completion of a 10-mile stretch on N.C. 24 from Clinton to Interstate 40 is critical for Sampson’s growth and connectivity, local leaders say — and a new data-driven formula seems to drive that point home, ranking the project near the top of a list of 1,300 state transportation projects that are pending or unfunded.
For the past year, members of the Sampson County Transportation Advocacy Group (TAG) have been working to advocate for the county’s transportation needs to regional planning organizations and state leaders, and to communicate updates to county officials. No project is more needed than the remainder of the N.C. 24 widening, they said.
“Since the creation of the TAG committee (a year ago), it has actively advocated for the completion of the improvements and four-laning of Highway 24, from Clinton to Interstate 40,” said TAG chairman Jerol Kivett. “Although we’re considering several transportation projects that can positively impact Sampson County, our priority is N.C. 24, Clinton to Interstate 40.”
Along with Kivett, the committee consists of vice chairman Everette Carr, county Commissioners Jefferson Strickland and Billy Lockamy, Nash Johnson, City Councilman Steve Stefanovich and, in a staff support role, economic developer John Swope.
Since its first meeting in March 2013, the group has met with many state transportation leaders, from the district and division (regional level) up to N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Tata. They were told how decisions were made, and how that process was changing.
“The new decision-making mechanism will be the new Strategic Mobility Formula,” said Kivett. “The new (formula) will be a data-driven system for deciding which projects are most worthy of state and federal transportation dollars, in the form of prioritizing projects by data, therefore making the process transparent.”
The Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) Law, passed in June 2013, established the Strategic Mobility Formula, a new way of allocating available revenues based on data-driven scoring and local input. The data-driven formula allows North Carolina to maximize its existing transportation revenues, increase transparency and minimize subjectivity in the project selection process, DOT officials said.
On March 31, DOT released the initial data for the approximately 1,300 highway projects in its current database based on criteria contained in STI. These projects are already in the department’s database and were either scheduled to begin construction after July 1, 2015 or not scheduled at all.
One of them was N.C. 24, from Clinton to I-40.
“(The project) ranks very high. I think we rank 42nd in the 1,300 projects. The remaining two sections of North Carolina 24, E and F, have scored in all categories of the Strategic Mobility Formula — that is the state, the regional and the division. That is a very positive situation. That means it (potentially) gets funding from all three of them,” said Kivett. “That will expedite that, we hope. We will continue to monitor that.”
Local priorities will be well represented, as 60 percent of the available funding is directed to projects at the regional and division levels. The remaining 40 percent goes to projects addressing statewide needs.
The initial data does not determine whether a project will ultimately be programmed or funded, DOT officials stated.
Back in February, Kivett, Clinton city manager Shawn Purvis and Commissioners chairman Strickland wrote separate letters to Tata supporting the completion of the N.C. 24 project from U.S. 421 (Faircloth Freeway) in Clinton to I-40 in Duplin County.
The men said a fully four-laned N.C. 24 would offer the most expedient passage for local industries and agriculture leaders to access I-95 and I-40 and to seaports, major airports and big cities, whether Raleigh, Wilmington or beyond. Completion of the final 10-mile segment would also provide a direct route betwen Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
Connectivity and ease of access are essential for the long-term viability of Sampson and the rest of the region, local leaders stated. Not funding that section of N.C. 24 would mean less connectivity and could bring possible dangers, with traffic bottlenecking on what would be the only two-lane portion of the 141-mile stretch between Fayetteville and Morehead City.
“This bottleneck poses a threat to the regional economy as traffic congestion can cause unsafe driving conditions and increased transit time that deter potential commercial and industrial development and tourism travel,” Purvis stated in his letter to Tata. “As a rural region, timely and direct access to nearby urban markets plays a significant role in attracting potential businesses and industries. Completing the N.C. 24 corridor will have a resounding effect on our growth and economy.”
The overall N.C. 24 project proposed a four-lane roadway stretching for approximately 40 miles, from Cumberland County to Interstate 40 near Warsaw, however just three-quarters of the project was funded.
Segment A is entirely in Cumberland County, with Segment B beginning in Cumberland and ending at Dowdy Road in Sampson. Segment C extends from Dowdy Road to Mitchell Loop Road, and Segment D takes the project from Mitchell Loop Road to the U.S. 421/701 Bypass (Faircloth Freeway).
The two segments extending from Clinton to Warsaw have not been funded. Kivett and others are hoping that will change.
Starting in May, at the earliest, DOT will allow three months to receive local input to rank the regional and division level projects. Once all final project scores and rankings are established, the department will program the projects in order of importance and other required project considerations, such as the completion of environmental and engineering plans, corridor spending caps and federal and state funding restrictions, DOT stated.
DOT will use the final project rankings generated by the new formula to create the next State Transportation Improvement Program, which is set to be adopted by June 2015.
With local input the next portion to be factored into the overall rankings, the TAG committee is pushing the project hard, building support for its completion.
“We have to put it on the map in front of them,” said Kivett, “and we will continue to push it. We’re very optimistic about what is going to happen.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.