Interstates and their interchanges are valuable assets. They mean traffic and potential economic development for a particular area. That’s why Sampson officials are doing what they can to make sure theirs remain intact.
As the N.C. Department of Transportation continues to study alternative routes for improvements and upgrades of U.S. 117 to interstate standards from I-40 in Sampson to I-795 in Wayne County, the existing I-40 and U.S. 117 interchange at Exit 355 in the Faison area is being floated as an option for what is being termed a “super flyover.”
Economic developer John Swope said it would be akin to the connection of I-40 and I-95, lots of stacked roadway with limited or no development.
“It would basically eliminate that exit, and we only have four (exits/interchanges) to Interstate 40 as it is,” said Commissioner Jerol Kivett. “That would cut us down to three and that would have a negative economic impact for us. The county owns land there and this would create a problem with access.”
In July 2015, DOT published a feasibility study for the U.S. 117 project — I-795 began in 2007 as a renumbering of the U.S. 117 freeway — assessing its practicality. Within that study, two options for connection points were identified for I-795 to connect to I-40.
Option 1 would convert the existing 355 interchange in the Faison area (where Enviva Pellets Sampson is located) into “super flyover” ramps, thereby closing the interchange to development by industry, business, agriculture and residents near Exit 355.
Option 1A would instead bring a new interchange south of the existing Exit 355, utilizing “super flyover” ramps at that location and leaving Exit 355 as it currently is, which county officials said would allow for future development.
At a recent state meeting, it was announced that the U.S. 117 project will be state-funded, but that funding is not yet in place. A segment from south of Goldsboro to north of Mount Olive has been designated for construction in 2029.
“This appears to be a very real thing,” said Swope.
If Exit 355 is selected, it will leave Enviva to find an alternative entrance. Enviva officials have estimated that a conversion to a “super flyover” at Exit 355 would mean an increase of $4,500 in company trucking costs per day — roughly $1.6 million a year. Trucks would be traveling an additional 9-10 miles on average to go around the back way, using Eldon Thornton Road to get to the new I-795 nearly 5 miles away.
“They just didn’t think it through,” Swope said of the state. “It’s our job to help them think it through.”
DOT has started the next phase in the process of selecting the final route of the U.S. 117 upgrades and its interconnection point with I-40. Transportation officials have requested all public comments by June 15. Swope has already shared information with the state touting the importance of Exit 355 in its current state.
This week, the Sampson Board of Commissioners added to that, urging the state to go with Option 1A as the connection point of I-795 and I-40, stating that the existing Exit 355 interchange is an important asset not only to Sampson, but also Duplin and Wayne counties. Altering that would have a “negative impact” to Enviva — it employs residents of 14 different counties — as well as the county as a whole, the board stated in its resolution.
The resolution also noted that the potential for that Exit 355 interchange was recognized by agencies at all levels, with county, state and federal grant funding totaling $3.2 million given toward that area in the last three years. That investment has included a half-million gallon elevated water tank, a mile-long extension of a 12-inch water line, the construction of a new water production well and the installation of highway traffic signals.
“By converting the existing Exit 355 into ‘super flyover’ ramps, local agriculture, business, industry, tourism, trucking and residential traffic will not have entrance and exit access to I-40 for 16 miles, from Exit 348 to the north and Exit 364 to the south,” the resolution noted.
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.