By LISA FARMER
More than 100 interested people attended Thursday’s Business Impact: I-95 Widening Project Luncheon at the Dunn Community Building.
North Carolina Department of Transportation officials and contracted engineers were there to give an update on construction plans to replace all six overpasses in the Dunn area and widen the interstate from four lanes to eight from Exit 58 in Eastover to Benson — 25 miles.
Construction should begin in the fall of 2020 after work is let in July of that year. It should take about three years to complete.
The biggest confusion with the plan is getting off the interstate in Dunn at Exits 72 and 73.
Motorists traveling south would get off in Dunn at Exit 73, even if they wanted to get to Exit 72. Motorists traveling north would get off in Dunn at Exit 72, even if they were trying to get to U.S. 421 at Exit 73. Once travelers get off the exit, let’s say Exit 72 but they want to get to Exit 73, they will then travel down a “connector distributor” or basically a road that connects one exit to the other, traveling through town to get to the other exit. That connector would also slow down traffic.
Renee Jackson, owner of Jernigan’s Nursery, voiced several concerns.
“This is extremely confusing to me,” she said.
Greg Burns, DOT District 6 Division engineer, granted that it appears confusing. But he said once signage is up, it will work. He pointed to a new intersection in Lumberton which appeared confusing to a layman in the planning process, but once it was all done and the green directional signs were in place, “It worked very well,” he said.
Mr. Burns said once the exits are reconfigured, “Most drivers won’t realize what they are going through.”
Ms. Jackson suggested maybe re-examining the plan.
Mr. Burns said going into all this, Dunn leaders had expressed the importance to keeping both exits.
But, he said, “We’ll get to a point where there are only so much changes and so many adjustments we can do.”
Another point is why there is a stoplight planned for Exit 73 when exiting the interstate before getting on the “connector” and only a stop sign for Exit 72.
Susan Lancaster with Michael Baker International said traffic volume studies show that a stop sign will suffice at the Exit 72 Pope Road exit.
Dunn Council member Billy Tart said he did not understand how that was so. He said it seemed to him that all the northbound motorists wanting to get to both Exits 72 and 73 would double the amount of traffic there.
Trent Carpenter said it looked like if you were a driver you’d be stuck at that stop sign waiting for all the traffic to go by on Pope Road.
Mr. Burns later said if it becomes a problem, a traffic light can be installed.
Dennis Goldstone, regional facilities maintenance engineer for Rooms To Go, was concerned about detours. He said 40 to 80 trucks travel to and from Rooms To Go a day and by the time this project starts, that number should double. He said it would be bad for all those 18-wheelers to be detoured through residential areas.
Scott Boyles, regional manager to Gannett Fleming, said the replacement overpass at Exit 75 where Rooms To Go is located will be built beside the current bridge.
“You will not have an off-site detour,” he said.
According to Rodney Stewart with Tristar Insurance, who was the moderator representing the Dunn Chamber, the intersection at U.S. 421 and the Saks Thrift Ave. store will undergo significant changes.
“That will be a very busy intersection,” he said. There have been a number of changes made to the plan since it was first rolled out to the public in October of last year following a series of meetings with those impacted, the chamber and the city. Those changes have been made to accommodate property and business owners by providing them as much access as possible, Mr. Boyles said.
However, there are property owners who will lose their land. There are nine properties that are “total takes” including the Brass Lantern and a family cemetery. And there are 14 properties that are partial takes.
The right-of-way acquisitions are ongoing. That’s being done by American Acquisition Group.
“This is the firm that’s going to be knocking at your door,” Mr. Bowles said.
The next step in this project is the Benson interchange where land acquisition will start in early 2019. Benson Chamber President Loretta Langdon was at Thursday’s meeting in Dunn.
To see a copy of the adjusted plans, visit www.ncdot.gov/strategictransportationinvest-ments/2018-2027.html
Dunn Chamber officials say they hope to have the engineers return at a later date for another update.