Saturday, December 16, 2006
Proposed Scenic Parkway to link Inner Banks
New artery to check development, protect wildlife
By Dan Parsons, Staff Writer
PLYMOUTH— Plans for a new $185 million scenic parkway, a portion of which would pass through Washington and Beaufort counties, were presented to the Washington County commissioners Tuesday night.
“The road would be a valuable artery linking Havelock to the northeastern Inner Banks allowing for ease of travel for citizens to visit the entirety of eastern North Carolina,” said Christopher East, a representative of Ron Toppin. Toppin is running for the District 1 Senate seat held by state Sen. Marc Basnight.
A new term relative to its Outer Banks counterpart, the “Inner Banks” were loosely defined in the Plymouth presentation as the “western areas of the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds,” including the banks of the Chowan, Roanoke, Pamlico and Neuse rivers.
A scenic parkway, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, is defined as a two-lane road separated from private land upon which a constant speed is maintained, by natural land, according to the presentation.
The proposed parkway will stretch from N.C. Highway 158 near Gatesville to N.C. Highway 70 near Havelock with a speed limit of 55 throughout, and will predominately use existing state highways 32, 45 and 306. The parkway would, however, bypass towns along its path, including Plymouth and Bath.
The cost of creating the parkway is not to exceed $185 million, which is the high-end estimate. State funding currently allocated to operating the two ferries that will be replaced should mostly cover the cost of constructing the parkway, Toppin said in an interview Wednesday. Further funding would come from the creation of state parks and wildlife refuges along the corridor.
“The parkway would cost almost nothing in funds that are not already allocated to the ferry systems alone,” East said.
As the Outer Banks become more developed and congested, the scenic parkway would serve a number of functions to facilitate the prevention of high-density land development. Protection of natural areas such as wetlands along the rivers and sounds would be the aim of increasing tourist access to opportunities for ecotourism and creation of state parks.
Diffusion and increased efficiency of hurricane evacuations was cited as another advantage of the parkway as well as smoother transportation of military forces between Jacksonville and Norfolk, Va.
Still, there was suspicion among the county commissioners as to the value of the parkway to Washington County and Plymouth.
“You say it will use only existing roads, but all I hear is bypass, bypass,” said Commissioner Billy Corey.
Fellow Commissioner Wesley Stokes had a suggestion.
“Why not bring the tourists through Plymouth on (U.S.) Highway 64 and then put them back on (N.C.) Highway 32?”, he asked.“Bring them through downtown Plymouth — not around it — and then you’ve got something.”
Toppin said the bypasses were “necessary to maintain a constant speed limit of 55 miles per hour.”
“Exits along the parkway would grant tourists access to local communities if that is their desire. For example, where Highway 32 intersects 64, motorists will have access to downtown Plymouth.”
The plan calls for three connecting bridges to be built across the Chowan, Pamlico, and Neuse rivers. The Bayview-Aurora and Minnesott Beach -Cherry Branch ferries currently operating would be closed and replaced by bridges. The Zeb Vance Norman Bridge, also called the Three Rivers Bridge, across the Roanoke River will be incorporated into the parkway. Twenty-four ferries employing 400 workers currently transport 1.1 million vehicles and 2.5 million passengers across five bodies of water annually.