WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday for the widening of 10.6 miles of U.S. Hwy. 17 in Beaufort and Martin counties.

Local leaders from Martin and Beaufort counties joined representatives from the N.C. Department of Transportation in the ceremony at the intersection of U.S. 17 and Joe Mobley Road. Work on the project has already begun to widen the highway from just north of N.C. Hwy. 171 near the Old Ford community to the existing four lanes just south of Williamston.

It’s part of a $86 million project that is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2026.

“This improved highway will be a vital corridor for northeastern North Carolina,” said Joey Hopkins, NCDOT’s chief operating officer. “It will help create economic opportunities for agriculture, manufacturing, military growth and tourism.”

N.C. Department of Transportation officials said the widening project is part of a series of improvements being made to U.S. 17, which is critical to economic development in northeastern North Carolina. The highway is vital to tourism and economic development in eastern North Carolina. It also speeds the delivery of agricultural products to local markets and the Port of Virginia in Norfolk and serves the logistical needs of the military.