Transportation chief remarks on U.S. 1’s future during annual State of Chamber.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Town commissioners often joke they’ll “be dead and buried” by the time major N.C. Department of Transportation projects roll around.
Not if Tony Tata has anything to say about it.
The state Secretary of Transportation promised Tuesday that turning Capital Boulevard north of I-540 into a nonstop freeway is a priority project for the DOT.
“Right now I think right-of-way purchase begins in 2021 for that,” Tata said. Though he stressed that the planning process for funding projects is still being set, he added, “I would consider this Highway 1 project one of the top projects … that needs to be done.”
Tata’s remarks came Tuesday during the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Chamber luncheon held at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.
The guest speaker talked about the great demands for road projects facing the state ($70 billion in projects planned and $1.5 billion per year to spend), and a new state law which changes the formula for how the work is distributed.
“We have gone to a data-driven system which says ‘Where are the most pressing needs?’” he said. “Instead of building roads where politicians say to build, we had a novel concept and said, ‘Why not build the roads where they’re needed?’”
Sixty percent of the monies will be divvied up into transportation regions, he said, and the remaining 40 percent will go toward work that helps join municipal areas, gets people to their jobs and projects that drive economic development within the state, among other considerations.
Project funding will be based on a formula that gauges the amount of travel time reduction gained for drivers against the project cost; the amount of congestion reduction; and the degree a project is expected to boost economic competitiveness.
Safety is also a criteria, such as replacing defunct bridges, as is multimodal connectivity — getting people to military bases, transit lines, busses, airports.
“We have not addressed those concerns at the pace of growth of Wake County,” Tata added. “A lot of the stuff that will be helping this area, and is helping, is overdue.”
The U.S. 1 freeway project would require a lot of construction, converting stop-lighted intersections to overpasses at interchanges at Durant/Perry Creek, Thornton, Burlington Mills and South Main/Falls of Neuse roads and limiting access through to the Dr. Calvin Jones Highway. Previous timeline estimates have varied widely, from 2035 to decades away.
Noting that plans may still change, Tata added, however, that “it looks like it’s going to happen in the (near) future with the new law.”
Need (physical) therapy?
Tata’s comments followed a lunch provided by the Golden Corral and introductory remarks by Chamber President Marla Akridge. Akridge also announced the chamber’s annual awards.
This year’s Ambassador of the Year is Ann Marie Mulhern, of On the Run Accounts. The board member of the year is Tom O’Connor, last year’s board chair. BB&T recently moved O’Connor to Houston for a better job, Akridge said.
The businesswoman of the year is Dirty Dogs Spa owner Vanessa Davis.
“I have a corgi. The corgi loves going there,” Akridge said.
This year’s rising star award for recently established businesses went to Dr. Katie Chenkus and Dr. Sherri Raley of Vitality Chiropractic and Family Wellness.
Just prior to Tuesday’s event, Chenkus said the biggest challenge they’ve had is getting their name out there to attract customers. Problem solved.
And the small business of the year award went to Orthopedic Physical Therapy Associates, located off Ligon Mill Road near Walmart. Accepting the award were Samantha Chassin and Ashley Bolt.
Ortho PT advertises comprehensive rehabilitation services for patients of all ages suffering from a variety of medical conditions.
Criteria in selecting the winner included that the business be open at least five years, be profitable, has made an impact on the community through volunteering, fundraising, providing internships and mentoring.
In addition, the winner must show leadership in their industry, practice proper business ethics, and be a chamber member in good standing.
‘Product’ to advertise
The chamber is in the process of goal-setting for the upcoming year, Akridge said. Taking a new tack, the board of directors is seeking advice from its member committees on how to move forward.
Attracting a “creative class” of businesses to town, an initiative she shares with Mayor Vivian Jones, is becoming more of a reality now that the town has “product,” Akridge added.
Noting she’s close to bringing an animation and gaming company here, the product the town is selling is tech — a wireless testing facility, the gaming industry and light manufacturing.
RST Fiber’s project underway to bring super-speed residential and business class fiber optics to Wake Forest is also a big draw, she added, expecting its establishment “to move the needle” on attracting entrepreneurs.