Can Interstate 74 create jobs?
The desire to create an economic development corridor along U.S. 74 was the highlight of a meeting between county commissioners from three western North Carolina counties Thursday.
Commissioners from Cleveland, Rutherford and Polk counties met with officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and various county economic development directors to discuss the prospect of creating a corridor from I-26 on the edge of Polk County to the Port of Wilmington.
"This is a great opportunity for the three counties to work together for economic enhancement and job creation," said Matt Blackwell, Rutherford County Economic Development Commission director.
Blackwell told the group that North Carolina only has one east-west route (I-40) to the Port of Wilmington. Creating an Interstate-quality road on U.S. 74 would create a second route to the coast along the southern edge of the North-South Carolina border.
"One of the top questions we get asked in an RFI (request for information) is how far we are from an Interstate," Blackwell said. "We are often eliminated because of our distance to an Interstate."
Blackwell said that creating such a corridor would also have statewide economic development implications.
"It does provide us Interstate access to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport," Blackwell said. "This is a catalyst that can create jobs."
Part of that discussion included each of the county commissions adopting a resolution asking the North Carolina Department of Transportation to explore the potential of upgrading U.S. 74 to an Interstate.
In the end, Commissions from Rutherford and Polk counties passed the resolution while Cleveland County Commissioners held it over to their April meeting.
The primary concern of Cleveland County Commissioners was whether the resolutions would hamper the construction of the U.S. 74 bypass in Shelby.
"We need to address speeding up the process for that bypass," said Eddie Holbrook, Cleveland County commissioner.
Under the current schedule, the bypass in Shelby will not be completed until 2030. The first section of the bypass is slated to start construction in February 2014.
Kevin Lacy, North Carolina Department of Transportation traffic engineer, said that Cleveland County should not slow down the first part of the bypass construction.
The second resolution was to promote improvements to a South Economic Development Corridor and create a 74 Economic Corridor Alliance. Both Rutherford and Polk county commissioners adopted that resolution with Cleveland County electing to table it until their April meeting.
But, Cleveland County commissioners said it was not their intent to discourage the process of creating a corridor or even looking at upgrading U.S. 74 to an Interstate.
"If we can complete this journey, I think this would be a great thing for all three counties," said Ronald Hawkins, Cleveland County Commission chairman.