Geoffrey Fowler, a GIT associate with Michael Baker International, explains the equipment used during a July 29 visit to Wilson to gather data and create a 3D model of a planned renovation of U.S. 301.
Brie Handgraaf | Times
By Brie Handgraaf
Times Staff Writer
Even though the construction hasn’t started for a comprehensive overhaul of a section of U.S. 301, the federally funded plan is making strides behind the scenes.
“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” said Wilson Assistant Public Works Director Bill Bass. “We’ve got a lot of work behind and a lot ahead of us that you’re not really going to see, but that work is necessary to move the first bucket of dirt.”
A consultant in Raleigh, Michael Baker International, was hired to survey the project, prepare necessary environmental documents and design the project. To do the latter, crews were in Wilson recently to map and create a model for the project with the help of an SUV equipped with mobile Lidar and cameras.
“The improvements will include curb and gutter, including storm drains,” Bass said. “It’ll have raised medians, sidewalks, multi-use paths and improvements to intersections such as signal upgrade for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.”
Late last year, the city was awarded $10 million in a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. The federal funding has to be leveraged with contributions from the state and the city to redo a 1.2-mile stretch of the old highway from Lipscomb Road to Black Creek Road.
“It is a significant amount of money, but all the work that has to be done is a significant amount,” Bass said. “We’re basically taking an existing highway and rebuilding it.”
While the city was the grant recipient, there are several other partners at the table to bring the project to fruition.
“So much work has already been done, but it is amazing how things have come together,” Bass said. “There is the potential, with this many organizations involved, for things to fall through the cracks, but we’ve done a good job with communications and getting everybody on board.”
Bass and Public Works Director Bryant Bunn, who have nearly four decades of experience combined working for the N.C. Department of Transportation, have used their expertise to cross some hurdles, cut through red tape and keep the project moving forward. The consultant work is anticipated to be finished next June, which will pave the way for bidding out the construction.
“Based on DOT’s information, they are talking about putting it for bids in September or October of 2017,” Bass said. “Construction will start in 2018 at the very earliest.”
The thoroughfare will not be shuttered for the two-to-three years of construction, but officials said inconvenience and detours might be necessary to do the work efficiently.
“U.S. 301 used to be the north-south connector, but the needs of the roadway have changed,” Bass said. “It is not really a capacity issue anymore as much as it is a project to get it to fit with the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
For that reason, officials are hoping to include sidewalks and multi-use lanes along the route and to nearby schools and businesses to improve connectivity of the area. The precise routes, though, will not be announced until crews have designed the specifics of the project.
“I think this project will better meet the needs of the community because right now, the corridor doesn’t fit,” Bass said.
Wilson City Manager Grant Goings said he is eager to see what the project will do for the community.
“The 301 project is a tremendous opportunity for Wilson,” Goings said. “City Council has prioritized redevelopment, particularly in our Center City areas. We hope to build on the momentum of this project and ensure it becomes a catalyst for new investment in the 301 corridor.”
Another nearby city was awarded a TIGER grant recently. In late July, it was announced that Goldsboro will receive $5 million for the second phase of a streetscape along Center Street as well as the implementation of a pedestrian plaza, wayfinding signs and a concourse for the Goldsboro Gateway Transit Center.
For more information on the TIGER project in Wilson, go to http://www.wilsonnc.org/tiger.