By Todd Wetherington, New Bern Sun Journal
Posted Jan 25, 2018 at 2:41 PM
The New Board of Aldermen have given the green light to a transportation improvement project that will bring major changes to the First Street area.
The board approved an agreement with the N.C. Department of Transportation for a project that will reduce First Street’s four travel lines to three, including a turning lane in the middle. The plan also calls for the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks along First Street from its intersection at Neuse Boulevard and Broad Street to Pembroke Avenue.
The $800,000 First Street Road Diet project will be designed and constructed by NCDOT and jointly funded by the city of New Bern. Work is scheduled to be completed in the third quarter of 2018.
Under the agreement, upon completion of the project, the city will reimburse NCDOT $260,000, will assume maintenance of the sidewalks, and will relocate and adjust all city-owned utilities that conflict with the project. DOT will be responsible for maintaining the roadway to the Broad Street intersection.
The project is part of the city’s “Greater Five Points Transformation Plan,” which was developed in 2016 in partnership with U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the New Bern Housing Authority and EJP Consulting Group.
City Manager Mark Stephens said the street plan originated through a Choice Neighborhoods Initiative planning grant that identified improvements to help address the Five Points/Duffyfield area’s unemployment rate and vehicle accessibility in an effort to bring education opportunities to the area.
During the Jan. 23 Board of Aldermen meeting, Jeff Ruggieri, director of Development Service, explained that one of the recommendations coming out of the CNI planning process was the promotion of workforce development skills in the area.
The first project under the plan was the $2.8 million VOLT Workforce Development Center on First Street, a collaboration between the city and Craven Community College, which was partially funded through a $1.2 million Economic Development Administration grant. Classes are set to begin at the site in late spring 2018.
Funding for the two projects is interrelated. The EDA granted permission to use NCDOT funds allocated for the First Street Road Diet project as matching funds for the Workforce Development Center grant. The matching funds from NCDOT added $728,500 to the total grant allocation.
Ruggieri said the lane narrowing along First Street had to be part of the package for NCDOT to help pay for the project.
“First Street is one of our most dangerous streets in the city,” said Ruggieri. “There’s accidents there a lot, there’s a lot of pedestrians that traverse that street without sidewalks, so the safety aspect of it came from DOT as they looked at the VOLT Center and we’re now attracting people to this area. We want them to be able to walk and ride their bicycles in a safe manner in order to be able to get the education to better their lives.”
First Ward Alderman Sabrina Bengel said she had “reservations” about the street changes.
“I don’t necessarily agree with the road diet,” said Bengel. “We kind of did the same thing to Broad Street. It was four lanes and we brought it back to two lanes with the center isle and traffic gets backed up a lot, especially when there are events and things going on downtown. But I’m more concerned with workforce development, that’s the game here, so I support this. Unfortunately it’s all tied in together.”