As engineers at the state Department of Transportation try to repair the broken technology on the U.S. 70 Clayton Bypass, the DOT is also hoping to engineer a victory for the road in an online vote for the nation's most innovative transportation project.
Transportation Secretary Gene Conti urged his 12,000 employees last week to stuff an online ballot box with their votes for the $123 million freeway in a competition with projects from nine other states.
"U.S. 70 Clayton Bypass in the running for national award -- cast your vote today!" Conti said in e-mail to all DOT workers.
DOT officials also plan to lobby for votes from Clayton and Johnston County civic leaders and from statewide construction and business interests.
The Clayton Bypass is one of 10 finalists for the America's Best Transportation Project prize to be awarded Oct. 25 by judges for the AAA motor club and two other national organizations. A "People's Choice" award will be given to the project that receives the most votes in an online tally.
The bypass is an 11-mile freeway that routes commuters and trucks around a congested highway through Clayton, now renamed U.S. 70 Business. The DOT acknowledges that the new road, which opened in 2008, has made rush-hour congestion worse on nearby Interstate 40.
The News & Observer reported Sept.15 that most of the Clayton Bypass's high-tech features -- heavily promoted in the DOT's campaign for national honors -- have been broken for months. Several traffic cameras are out of commission.
Electronic message boards are supposed to display current travel-time estimates for the business and bypass routes, to help drivers choose the quicker path. Several signs are dark, and one of them shows only the estimated travel time for U.S. 70 Business.
Senior DOT officials had been unaware that the bypass technology wasn't working.
"We are addressing the concerns that have been raised, particularly relating to the message boards," said Ted Vaden, a DOT deputy secretary. "And we expect to have those fully operational quickly."
Meanwhile, Vaden said, the DOT is urging state business and construction industry leaders and Johnston civic groups to help win the online prize for the Clayton Bypass.
Bob Ahlert, a Clayton Town Council member and mayor pro tem, said the DOT will get his vote. The bypass has reduced truck traffic through Clayton, he said, making it easier for residents to get around town.
"It has improved access to all the businesses here on 70 Business," Ahlert said. "People going to those businesses don't have to contend with the rush-hour traffic that they had before."
Jeff Carver of Clayton, a Johnston commissioner, said he hopes the DOT gets the bypass technology working again. And he also hopes the project wins a prize.
"I think it's great," Carver said. "If I can get the Web site address, I'll shotgun it out to some folks who have benefited from that highway and like the way it looks as well."
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