Group rallies support for U.S. Highway 17 improvement proposals - WNCT

Group rallies support for U.S. Highway 17 improvement proposals

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NEW BERN, N.C. -

For seven years, a local group has been calling for major improvements to one of our region's busiest roads. But now it says it has data to back the need for those changes.

The Highway 17 Association completed an economic impact study this summer explaining the impact of their request to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to convert the entire 282-mile road into a four lane highway, similar to an interstate.

"If the DOT invests remaining money required to improve the corridor, it would return dramatic money to eastern North Carolina, billions of dollars in economic return, and create thousands of jobs: construction jobs in the near term and recurring jobs in the long term across all sectors of the economy," said Marc Finlayson, Highway 17 Association executive director.

The association presented data from its economic impact study to Craven County commissioners Monday morning.

Improvements to the highway could cost anywhere from half a million dollars to more than four billion dollars. The four billion dollar project is the conversion of Highway 17 into an interstate quality facility.

"That would be very, very expensive and take beyond the year 2035 to complete, but would create probably 4,000 recurring jobs in the corridor and literally multiple billions of dollars in economic growth," said Finlayson.

The group says U.S. Highway 17 is the transportation backbone of eastern North Carolina.  Some small business owners have mixed feelings about the proposals.

"I think it would be some short term loss of business, but highways are always beneficial and there are so many accidents on Highway 17, and I think I would be in favor of improving that highway," said Dennis Bridgers, pharmacist and owner of Bynum's Drug Store in New Bern.

9 On Your Side reached out to the NCDOT for comment, but the agency did not return a phone call.

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