Public weighs in ahead of planned Highway 17 improvements

MARTIN COUNTY, NC (WITN) The passageway for 10,000 daily drivers, the two-lane Highway 17 between NC 171 and Williamston, will soon be getting a roughly $70 million upgrade.

Thursday in Williamston that Department of Transportation project was the subject of an open public comment meeting, as the DOT prepares to expand the existing road to four-lanes to help alleviate congestion and improve traffic in the area.

"This has kind of become a bottleneck so to speak," said Jerry Jennings, the DOT's Division Engineer overseeing the project. "There has been an effort to improve Highway 17 to multi-lanes throughout the state and this is one of the remaining segments that has not been improved."

Despite the road's location in a largely rural area, the route is heavily used by tourists heading to the beach, as well as military traffic and industrial and commercial shipping.

Along the current planned construction route, several small cemeteries could be impacted by the expansion, a concern for many area locals, though the DOT said they will do everything they can to minimize impacts.

"With the current design we will slightly impact those cemeteries, but again we are receiving feedback tonight, we've heard concerns, so we'll take that back following this meeting to reduce and to minimize those impacts," Jennings said in response to the concerns.

The current timeline from the DOT would have right-of-way acquisitions beginning in December of this year, with the actual construction on the roadway starting in June of 2020.

The entire construction phase should take roughly two years to complete, though DOT officials said that timeline has not been finalized and could change.

This project is just one of the 25 strategic highway corridors that have been planned along Highway 17 in North Carolina.