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Bracketed by soon-to-be interstate highways, Bailey, Middlesex and Spring Hope should see unprecedented growth in the coming years, but the drive for retail businesses will be more manual than automatic, according to state and local officials.
“We have to find a way to yank those motorists off the interstates,” said state Sen. Rick Horner, a Nash County Republican who also represents part of Johnston County.
Horner said Johnston officials have figured out how to make the best of the interstates running through their towns, and Nash folks should be taking notes.
“Johnston County knows how to milk the interstate,” Horner said. “People shop at those outlets, dumping all that sales tax, and drive away without requiring services and schools.”
Smithfield has a shopping center on I-95 with more than 75 outlet stores. With the right development, the three southern Nash County towns could see the same type of growth, but it won’t happen without hard work, Horner said.
The area is teeming with possibility.
Bailey and Middlesex have exits on U.S. 264, which is set to become I-587 from Zebulon to Greenville.
Bailey Mayor Thomas Richards said there’s talk of Hardee’s relocating to the U.S. 264 and N.C. 581 exchange. Having the popular fast-food restaurant at the interstate exchange, along with accompanying stores, would be a big boon to Bailey, Richards said.
Spring Hope has an exit on U.S. 64, which is set to become I-87 from Raleigh to Norfolk, Virginia. Signs along U.S. 64 already read “Future I-87.”
Nash County Retail Economic Developer Susan Phelps said having interstates running past all three southern Nash municipalities should increase economic development.
Planned years ago, a Bojangles’ restaurant at U.S. 64 and N.C. 581 just outside Spring Hope could finally become a reality.
Phelps said the project stalled because it needed other businesses at the multi-development site, which the restaurant franchise still owns.
The interstate just might bring enough traffic for developers to move forward.
“Infrastructure will help with all of that,” Phelps said.
Horner said the area already needs another ABC store.
“Maybe that will pull in folks,” Horner said.
The real question is whether the new interstates will create more traffic, Horner said.
“The question: What is the economic impact of an interstate designation? The answer: I have no idea,” Horner said.
The interstate upgrade and any business growth won’t happen overnight.
The completed project, which includes widening traffic lanes and shoulders for both highways, is expected to take two decades, said Andrew Barksdale, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division 4, which includes Nash, Johnston and Wilson counties.
“Bottom line: We have to widen the paved shoulders and do other minor work to U.S. 264 in Wilson County before it can become I-587,” Barksdale said. “However, there is no such project currently planned in the STIP (state transportation improvement plan) from 2020 to 2029 construction. But, this stretch of U.S. 264 is already fully controlled limited access with interchanges.”
The newly christened highway will connect Wake County to Greenville, the largest city in North Carolina without interstate access.
“Interstate connectivity plays a key role in business recruitment and retention. This new designation will support greater economic development, improve access to East Carolina University and its medical center, and strengthen regional mobility,” then-Gov. Pat McCrory said when he first announced the interstate designation in 2016.
Also in the works is turning U.S. 70, which runs through Johnston County, into I-42 from I-40 to Morehead City.
Southern Nash County doesn’t have a specific project on the state transportation books, but Johnston County is well represented.
Bailey Chamber of Commerce President Cecil Hawley said that’s because southern Nash didn’t have real representation until Horner became its state senator.
Horner won re-election to a second term in the state senate in 2018 to represent a redrawn District 11, which is now made up of Nash County and the northern part of Johnston County. Horner represented Wilson County in his first term.
Horner said Johnston County has several projects happening due to its surging growth.
“It’s all that crazy growth in Johnston County,” Horner said. “It’s a lot of road work the state was ill prepared for. Five miles of 42 will cost $50 million, including a bridge over the Neuse River.”