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Dreary weather didn’t stop officials and residents from gathering Tuesday morning to celebrate the start of construction to revitalize the U.S. 301 corridor.
“301 highway is going to come back thanks to Congressman G.K. Butterfield who helped us get that TIGER grant. This area will come back and businesses will thrive,” said Mayor Bruce Rose. “This side of town is going to go good, I can tell you right now.”
In 2015, Wilson was awarded $10 million through a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, which was paired with $6 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation and about $2 million from the city. S.T. Wooten is planning to survey the project this week and start construction next week to add raised medians, sidewalks and crosswalks along with improved stormwater systems from Black Creek Road to Lipscomb Road. Construction is slated to finish by January 2020.
Butterfield said he considered the grant proposal, U.S. 301: Road to Opportunity, “the most comprehensive and compelling proposal” ever seen by federal transportation officials.
“‘This is a corridor that truly can be a road to opportunities, but its flaws must be addressed to reach that potential,’” Butterfield said, reading from the proposal. “‘The city of Wilson and its many partners, on behalf of the users of 301, are pursuing this TIGER grant to provide roadway upgrades and multimodal improvements on it immediately adjacent to the roadway, so that all users — drivers, pedestrians and cyclists — can gain access to the opportunities this roadway provides now and in the years to come.’”
The proposal notes the highway is oversized for local traffic, prone to flooding and lacks accomodations for pedestrians and cyclists from the adjacent neighborhoods.
“And due to low congestion typical of a rural highway with minimal interstate travel, U.S. 301 is uncompetitive for additional funding under DOT’s new prioritization process,” the proposal states.
The road wasn’t always used primarily by local drivers, though. Before Butterfield was born, U.S. 301 wasn’t in its current location, but followed Herring and Goldsboro through the Five Points neighborhood, then the road was shifted along the railroad to Pender Street. In 1957, the thoroughfare was shifted to its current location with a straight north-south shot through eastern Wilson.
“That was a big deal to have a four-lane highway in our community to handle the traffic, which was not just a local highway. It was an interstate, so if you were from New York headed to Florida, you’d come down Pender, then in ‘57, you started coming through here,” Butterfield recalled. “In 1976, the decision was made to move the highway from here to the Interstate 95 we know today.”
Butterfield went on to describe the project as a labor of love for officials and staff.
“There is a lot of history associated with this corridor, so it is great the city was willing to take on this project and invest in east Wilson,” he concluded.
Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz said only 6 percent of the projects submitted in 2015 were funded, but was the assistance from the state that enabled the city to keep the project as envisioned.
“This is a great project and it took a team effort,” said Gus H. Tulloss, a state transportation board member representing Wilson County. “It won’t be very long before everyone will be riding up and down on this new facility. It is going to bring so much new business and I think you will be very proud.”
In addition to the work covered by federal funding, crews are set to add sidewalks along Lipscomb Road East to Wilson Community College, plus work already is underway to resurface Lipscomb east of U.S. 301.