Jones said in a statement connecting east North Carolina to neighboring regions will play a crucial role in the sustainable long-term growth of the area.
“As a booming center of innovation across a wide range of industries, it is vital that the greater Greenville area has access to high-quality infrastructure and transportation,” he said.
The push for the project is also backed by Republican U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. Greenville is the largest city in North Carolina that doesn’t have an interstate highway.
Kenny Flowers, assistant vice chancellor of Community and Regional Development at East Carolina University, said the interstate designation will have an enormous impact on the region’s economic development.
“There are a lot of times when businesses and industry are looking to locate, the first box they check off is proximity to an interstate highway,” he said. “To have that, your profile as a city is heightened.”
Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas said if the plan is approved, businesses will be attracted to the area even before funds are allocated for construction.
Flowers said the interstate will also likely draw in more students to East Carolina University.
“Families look for colleges that fit the needs of their kids but at the same time will rule something out because of access,” he said. “Having an interstate nearby makes a difference for folks.”
Thomas said most of the road stretching from Zebulon to Greenville is already built to federal regulations.
“The irony of it is that other than needing two additional feet of shoulder room on the far sides of the road, Highway 264 is built to interstate quality,” he said.
Thomas said the benefits of the interstate designation is worth the government’s minimal investment.
“The slight augmentation that will enable 264 to eventually be an interstate will cost somewhere in the $60 million range,” he said. “That’s pennies on the dollar in terms of what’s spent on transportation.”