By Robert Pittenger
U.S. 74 is the primary highway through North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. While some folks only know it as the route to the beach, this vital corridor connects challenged rural communities to economic and transportation assets in Charlotte and the port in Wilmington.
What if we could turn U.S. 74 into an economic development asset that helped recruit new jobs and opportunities to our local communities?
Currently, U.S. 74 is a mixture of freeway, rural highway and city street. Drivers face congestion and countless stoplights. The lack of adequate transportation infrastructure has stifled business investment and job growth in many communities along U.S. 74.
That is why I think it makes a lot of sense to upgrade U.S. 74 into a modern interstate with more lanes, no stoplights and a higher speed limit. Not only would “Interstate 74” cut travel time to the beach, it would also facilitate major economic growth.
Industry is responsive to major road systems and transportation access. A new interstate would be an economic development boon for Monroe, Wadesboro, Rockingham, Laurinburg, Lumberton and many southeastern North Carolina communities hit hard by poorly negotiated foreign trade agreements and the loss of traditional industries.
Charlotte is the nation’s third largest financial hub, and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is building out a major intermodal transportation facility. Wilmington ranks among the most active port cities on the eastern seaboard. The relatively close proximity of these two cities, combined with North Carolina’s business friendly environment and dedicated workforce, would entice new businesses and industries to locate along an upgraded “Interstate 74.”
Ultimately, upgrading Highway 74 to an interstate would create a successful partnership between Charlotte, southeastern North Carolina and Wilmington.
Recently, I sent letters to over 400 local communities and community leaders all along the U.S. 74 corridor asking for their thoughts and support for this concept. Thus far, the response has been strongly positive.
Mark Ward, Scotland County economic development director, told me that “rural counties without interstates lagged behind those counties with interstates on sales tax generated, job creation and real estate valuations. For Scotland County to be competitive, we need Highway 74 to become interstate quality. Every Request for Information I have completed asks how close the site is to an interstate. Companies are going to locate where their costs are low, and having to drive to another county to get to an interstate drives up their costs.’
Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris stated that “the new interstate will have a direct and positive impact on the economic welfare for all citizens and industries in and around Robeson County.”
And Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson noted that “the changing of U.S. Route 74 designation to an interstate will catalyze opportunities desperately needed to support the region.”
Support from hardworking North Carolinians has also been strong. In an “instant poll” conducted by WSOC-TV on Nov. 17, nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated support for the Interstate 74 concept.
While this idea is still in the conceptual stage, my hope is that we can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
This is a common-sense infrastructure improvement that will benefit the residents and businesses of communities throughout the 9th Congressional District, and I look forward to working with local leaders to bring this concept to fruition.