LUMBERTON — An infrastructure improvement list being touted by President Trump includes two projects that could encourage economic development in Robeson County.
Among the projects on the “Emergency & National Security Projects” compiled by President Donald Trump’s transition team and shared with the National Governor’s Association are Interstate 95 repairs and the Atlantic Cost Pipeline, according to published reports.
The $1.5 billion I-95 project, which involves critical repairs to the “busiest interstate in the nation,” would result in 5,400 direct jobs, according to the report. The $4.5 billion to $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline natural gas project would involve 10,000 “direct job years.”
“Absolutely it’s good news,” said Gregory Cummings, director of the Robeson County Industrial Economic Development Commission.
The list is creating a stir and points to Trump’s campaign pledge of improving the nation’s infrastructure. But neither the list or the allocation of funds to pay for the projects is official.
“President Trump has not yet released an official list of infrastructure projects, however, I am very aware that modernizing I-95 and building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are critical to creating jobs and a healthy economy in Robeson County,” said U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents Robeson County.
The Charlotte Republican plans to actively support these projects in conversations with the White House and legislative efforts with the Appropriations Committee. He also intends to pursue repealing unnecessary regulations that have made projects like these harder to complete.
Access to interstates that reach into every part of the nation is a marketing tool he uses to recruit industries and business, Cummings said. The county sits in an “interstate web” that includes interstates 95, 74, 73, 40 and 20.
“It is critical that you keep those interstates up,” Cummings said.
Repairs and upgrades continue on I-95 in Robeson County whether or not a finalized list or additional funding materialize, said Randy Wise, a state Department of Transportation division construction engineer. Recent work includes upgrading bridge decks, paving repairs and replacing fencing along the highway.
“We’ll continue to go on doing that regardless of the list,” Wise said.
A plan to widen I-95 has stalled, he said.
“We had a proposed project to widen I-95 throughout North Carolina,” Wise said.
The proposal included using toll fees as a funding source, he said. Public outcry over placing toll booths on I-95 put brakes on the proposal.
The proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will transport natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. It will pass through North Hampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson and Cumberland counties before ending in Robeson County near Pembroke.
The pipeline would be another marketing tool, Cummings said. When planning to expand or build a new facilities, industries look for access to an interstate system, a certified industrial park, water and sewer services, fiber optics, access to rail service and electrical power.
“And you definitely have to have natural gas,” Cummings said. “And Robeson County has them all.”
The creation of jobs is the biggest benefit from improving I-95 and building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Pittenger said.
“Natural gas is now the preferred energy source for manufacturers, and I-95 is a critical artery for transporting goods to major markets,” he said. “For years, the economy in western North Carolina has benefited from a reliable supply of natural gas while eastern North Carolina has been left behind. This vital pipeline will become a major tool for recruiting new businesses to Robeson County, especially if we can combine it with a vastly improved I-95. In addition, Robeson County should receive nearly $1 million each year in additional property tax revenues, which will benefit schools and local infrastructure needs.”
Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Electric are working on the project. Dominion Resources, based in Richmond, Va., is building the pipeline and would oversee its operations.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974.