Project will make future upgrades easier
Four Oaks residents got a preview of a proposed bridge expansion project over Interstate 95 at the U.S. 701/N.C. 96 interchange Thursday afternoon at Four Oaks Middle School. Construction is projected to begin sometime in 2022 with an 18- to 24-month timeline.
According to NCDOT officials, the purpose of the project is to bring the bridge which currently sits over I-95 and the interchange configuration up to current design standards to alleviate the driver confusion of the interchange. The project will also allow the interchange to handle future projected traffic volumes along the I-95 corridor. The project will include new adjacent roads and the installation of roundabouts to ease traffic flow. It will also upgrade the vertical and horizontal clearances under the bridge should a widening of the interstate be undertaken.
“The interchange is going to start construction in 2022, we’re bringing it up to current interstate standards,” said NCDOT Project Manager Jake Green. “That will include a bridge over I-95 and one over the CSX railroad. We’re going to increase mobility and increase clarity on how drivers get through the intersections.”
Mr. Green said the inclusion of the roundabouts will streamline the traffic patterns and make it more convenient for drivers to negotiate.
“We’re putting four roundabouts that’s going to allow traffic to move and also increase mobility and increase safety and decrease crashes there,” he said. “It will have some impacts to the right of way.”
The impact will include the acquisition of about a dozen properties which are located within the project area.
“Right now we’re showing eight residential relocations, four businesses and potentially maybe one church, I’m not sure,” Mr. Green said.
The design created for the project is minimizing the number of properties which will be purchased by NCDOT, according to NCDOT spokesman Andrew Barksdale.
“We have worked hard to minimize the impacts,” he said. “What that means is, the roundabouts allow you to take less right of way and less buildings. With roundabouts you can acquire less property and cluster them together. Interchanges you can’t cluster together but roundabouts you can.”
As for justifying the need to not only relocate the properties in question, the entire project is designed to allow for future growth of the highway.
“We’re wanting to widen I-95 north of Benson,” said Mr. Barksdale. “There’s no project currently funded, but in order to do that we have to replace a lot of bridges because they’re not wide enough and they’re not long enough.”
Mr. Barksdale said the current condition of the bridge is well below current specifications.
“This bridge is substandard,” he said. “It’s not the current standard for height, it’s a little bit narrow and it’s functionally obsolete. We can’t put eight lanes underneath it.”
He said NCDOT officials are hoping to get a headstart on the future by replacing the bridge now, instead of including it with any future funded widening projects.
“It’s more like the legwork or the prep work for a wider highway,” he said. “However you want to look at it.”
The same holds true for the entire interchange, it’s currently below standards and outdated. Mr. Barksdale said officials believe there are currently too many roads coming together within the interchange, it’s confusing and ramps both on and off are too short.
“This interchange was built 55 or 60 years ago,” he said. “Now we have longer on and off ramps for more acceleration or deceleration on and off the highway. We want to modernize this. We want to take the opportunity to make it a better functioning interchange that will last another 100 years.”
Estimates of the cost are $6 million for right-of-way acquisition and another $15.5 million for construction.
“When you’re building the bridge you want to accommodate for future growth,” said NCDOT Division 4 Engineer Ronnie Keeter. “You want to be spending smart money.”
While NCDOT officials feel they have made strong case for the project, many residents are still harboring concerns. Most concerns lie in the uncertainty of what the area near the new interchange will take away compared to what it will add to the economic benefit of Four Oaks.
“I certainly hope it will bring in more businesses hopefully, “ said resident Julia Benson. “Losing a home or a business is something to be considered.”
-Dunn Daily Record