By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
A businessman recruited the assistance of state Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edge) to lobby for a westbound off ramp on U.S. 64 bypass leading into Princeville.
Michael Bennett met with Tolson on Friday — four days before the Upper Coastal Plain Rural Planning Organization's 7 a.m. meeting in Wilson.
UCPRPO's meeting will add or remove proposed transportation projects or give them a higher or lower ranking. All modes of transportation (aviation, bike/pedestrian, highway) will compete for funding. Bennett and Tolson plan to attend the meeting.
"Getting that off ramp into Princeville is critical to the future of the town," Bennett said. "Thousands of travelers pass through everyday and they are not given an opportunity to conveniently drive into town. Once the right infrastructure is put in place in Princeville, the off ramp will be vital."
Bennett purchased 11 acres of land that were used by FEMA to temporarily house displaced victims of 1999 Hurricane Floyd. Water and sewer lines, as well as utilities, are in place. Bennett has also purchased what he believes to be a "prime piece of real estate at the intersection of Main Street and Mutual Boulevard.
"We're going to look at this very closely to see what we can do to help this investor," Tolson said. "It will help his business if the access is permitted.
"This investor wants to do something to rehab the town. I can assure him that I'm going to do all I can do to have DOT (Department of Transportation) take a good look at Princeville."
The U.S. 64 eastbound proposal is one of several that will be included in the discussion. UCPRPO will grade the proposals by the most critical need to the least critical need. Each proposal will get scores from 0-100. The higher the bid the more critical the demand. The proposals already have scores; however, new grades could be given. Currently, the U.S. 64 bypass off ramp proposal score is 13.65.
Bennett plans to attend the meeting and speak in favor of the proposal. He hopes that he can influence UCPRPO to move the project higher up the ladder.
"I'm not looking at Princeville the way that it is now, but the way that it can be when the right infrastructure is placed in the town," Bennett said. "If marketed correctly, it can be the biggest tourist attraction in the state. It is the oldest town in America charted by blacks. No other town in the United States can say that.
"Just think. If Edgecombe County collected $51 million in tourism in 2012, how much could it collect if Princeville was marketed correctly?"
The U.S. 64 bypass off ramp proposal is nothing new. The conversation has arisen for at least the past two Princeville government administrations. As of yet, the administrations have yet to influence DOT to move the project up the list.
Before U.S. 64 was extended to Williamston, travelers exited into Princeville less than a mile to where the proposed project will take place. That ramp was done away with and replaced at the 487 marker east of the old ramp.
Tuesday's meeting will be preliminaries for discussions. On Wednesday officials will score the proposals.
Other proposals in Edgecombe County include:
• Upgrade N.C. 111 (Wilson Street) to N.C. 122 (McNair Road). Score 27.15
• Widen McNair Road to three lanes from U.S. 64 to 64 alternate. Score 12.06