Bypass part of Interstate vision

Mar. 24, 2013 @ 06:03 AM

Making U.S. 74 from Polk County to Cleveland County is a bypass project that has been discussed for over three decades.

The U.S. 74 bypass in Shelby was first introduced in 1979 as part of a study and now, with Cleveland, Polk and Rutherford counties discussing the prospect of an Interstate 74 from I-26 to the Port of Wilmington, the bypass is taking center stage.

During a joint meeting of county commissioners Thursday night from the three counties along with officials with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the bypass received heightened awareness.

According to Bill McCarter, planning director for Cleveland County, the U.S. 74 bypass in Shelby will start construction on the first of several areas in 2014. The cost to create the bypass over 18.6 miles at Interstate quality — 12-foot shoulders on either side and four lanes — is estimated at $296 million and it not slated to be completed until 2030.

"We feel the project is not only important to Cleveland County but to Rutherford and Polk counties," McCarter said.

The question raised by Cleveland County commissioners was whether supporting a pair of resolutions — one creating a 74 Economic Corridor Alliance and the other petitioning NCDOT to study making U.S. 74 an Interstate — would hamper the process of the Shelby bypass.

Kevin Lacy, traffic engineer with NCDOT, said Cleveland County should not slow down the initial construction of the bypass. The first leg of bypass construction is estimated to cost $25 million and is scheduled to begin in February 2014.

Cleveland County commissioners voted Thursday night to table the resolutions until their meeting in April to allow time to research any potential impact those resolutions may have on bypass construction.

"We need to look at speeding up the process for the Shelby bypass," said Eddie Holbrook, Cleveland County commissioner.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the three counties' willingness to push for Interstate designation of U.S. 74. Rutherford County Economic Development Commission Director Matt Blackwell said a corridor from I-26 to the Port of Wilmington would open up economic development opportunities that may not be present currently because of Rutherford County's distance to an Interstate.

He said that adding an Interstate connector to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and the Charlotte intermodal benefits all of southern North Carolina.

"This is a catalyst that can create jobs," Blackwell said.

Despite that, the question of the effects of exploring an Interstate designation for U.S. 74 on the Shelby bypass still linger.

"I would love to see an Interstate classified while the bypass is being constructed," said Julius Owens, Rutherford County Commission chairman. "We need to move this process ahead."