WASHINGTON — A federal highway grant totaling $147 million will be used to make Interstate 95 eight lanes wide from Exit 20 at Fayetteville Road in Lumberton, to Exit 40, south of Fayetteville, among other projects.
The $147 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant was announced this week by United State Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans from North Carolina. No timetable was given for the project that also includes upgrading bridges and interchanges along one of the nation’s busiest traffic corridors.
The grant will also help widen the section north of Fayetteville from Eastover to Dunn. It will also upgrade remaining sections of U.S. 70 to interstate grade, allowing the freeway to become I-42. Three hundred miles of fiber optic cable will installed along the route.
Chuck Miller, N.C. DOT’s district engineer for Robeson County, does not have details of the program yet, but he said Wednesday that the two I-95 sections in North Carolina that will be upgraded are among the interstate’s oldest and feature narrow bridges and short on- and off-ramps.
“The move will upgrade I-95 through North Carolina,” Miller said. “It is a busy road today.”
On a daily basis, 59,000 vehicles pass through Lumberton between exits 20 and 22, Miller said. That compares with 43,000 vehicles in 2002 — an increase of 37 percent.
Channing Jones, director of the Robeson County Office of Economic Development, and Angela Sumner, director of the Lumberton Visitors Bureau, both hailed the project as a plus for Lumberton and the county.
“We appreciate anything that makes our roads safer and encourages more tourism,” Sumner said. “I-95 is the lifeblood of tourism here.”
Jones said transportation arteries are one of Robeson County’s greatest assets.
“This project will help us,” he said. “Widening I-95 to help traffic flow is good for business and the distribution of goods and services.”
Andrew Barksdale, communications coordinator for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said, “These are transformative projects that will go a long way toward improving mobility and commerce and economic development in eastern N.C.
“Because we just got this news yesterday, we don’t yet have a design and construction timetable. We hope to have that timetable within a few months,” Barksdale said. “This federal grant is new federal money, over and above what we were expecting from federal aid. If we didn’t get this money, another state would.”
The upgrade of I-95 had been on the DOT drawing board, and the federal funds makes the project possible, Barksdale said.
The grant is part of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America funding and will be distributed to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
In 2015, the Senate passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which included provisions introduced by Sens. Burr and Tillis to designate portions of U.S. 70 as a high priority corridor and future interstate. The grant will help connect U.S. 70 from I-40 to the Port in Morehead City. The project will improve access along I-95 and U.S. 70 for four military bases: Fort Bragg, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune Marine Base, and Cherry Point Marine Air Station.
In addition to expanding highway access, the project will provide 300 miles of broadband backbone to connect Eastern North Carolina to telecommunications access.
In statements on Tuesday, Sens. Burr and Tillis expressed their satisfaction with this investment in North Carolina’s infrastructure.
“I am pleased that North Carolina will receive the resources we need to continue updating our crucial highway corridors,” Burr said. “These projects will modernize our roads and decrease congestion in areas that have become overburdened by traffic and delays. They will also improve our emergency preparedness in the event of a natural disaster and will establish reliable access to four vital military bases. In the process, this work and development will help boost economic growth in local communities. I am proud of Sen. Tillis’ work and the strong, bipartisan support North Carolina’s delegation has shown on this important issue.”
“Today’s decision by the Department of Transportation to provide resources to widen I-95 and allow U.S. 70 to become I-42 is great news that will produce long-lasting benefits in Eastern North Carolina,” said Tillis said. “These improvements will result in reduced traffic congestion, improved access to military bases, and increased investments in our state’s economy. I want to thank Secretary (of Transportation Elaine Lan) Chao for this grant to make these important infrastructure improvements and Sen. Burr for his partnership advocating for these projects.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]