Proposed I-95 interchange has potential

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The best recent news about Rocky Mount’s dream of attracting a giant retailer near a proposed interchange on Interstate 95 is that hopes for the interchange remain very much alive in North Carolina transportation plans.

As Telegram business writer John Henderson reported earlier this week, a new funding forumula has reclassified the proposed interchange at Sunset Avenue as a “divisional project.” The state now divides its transportation funds among three classifications – “statewide projects,” which are allocated money from 40 percent of the pie; “divisional projects,” which are allocated money from 30 percent; and “regional projects,” which are allocated money from the remaining 30 percent.

Theoretically, a statewide project has more money available, but there also will be more competitors, often with higher price tags, as well.

The reclassification of the Rocky Mount project makes sense. An I-95 interchange at Sunset Avenue might be an ideal location for a major retailer, but there isn’t enough traffic in our part of the state to make the interchange a necessary relief valve for congestion. As a divisional project, the interchange won’t have to compete against needs in more metropolitan areas for statewide funding, either.

While the interchange would depend greatly on state money, the Rocky Mount City Council should be mindful of the commercial potential of such a project as the Council weighs potential capital improvements for the area.

A major retailer such as an outdoors store or even an outlet mall would bring jobs to the city and increase the Rocky Mount tax base. It also could serve as a magnet, attracting outside dollars to the Twin Counties from tourists and shoppers.

Bob League, principal transportation planner for the city, has even discussed the possibility of fronting local money for the project in an effort to speed up its potential timetable. That’s costly when considering an interchange with a price tag of $30 million. But if the state reimburses the city, at least in part, the intial expense could pay off handsomely in the long run.

It’s a proposition worth considering as City Council members continue to look at long-term goals for the area.