Wendell’s Economic Development Committee got a crash-course in interstate knowledge last week to help understand the impact the future I-495 could have on the region.
The committee heard from Joe Milazzo, the executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance. Milazzo told residents at the meeting last Wednesday night that although it could take decades, the future I-495 could become a key route that connects the Triangle to other economic hubs, like southeastern Virginia.
“495 may not just be a connector,” he said. “It may help tie (the Triangle directly) in to Virginia Beach.”
He told the committee that having interstates attracts visitors, more transportation options and business locations. For the future I-495, it also has broader implications for areas like nearby Franklin County, which currently has no miles of interstate in its limits.
“The only prayer (Franklin County) has is I-495,” Milazzo said.
Milazzo also pointed out that Wendell is now on a federally recognized interstate, which could have huge impacts on local business locations.
But the process, which has so far taken nine years just to receive the designation of future I-495, still has quite a bit of time before it’s completely done. The future deisgnation means there is still work to be done on the road and the federal government has made the committment to handle some of the cost of work over the next 25 years.
Removing the ‘future’ from I-495 would mean upgrading the corridor, which, according to Milazzo, won’t cost too much because of the current condition of US 64.
“This is not a $1 billion project,” Milazzo said. “I don’t think it’s even a $100 million.”
Since US 64 is already like a freeway, Milazzo said one of the major projects that will need to happen is to widen the shoulder, something that will likely happen as the road is normally maintained.
Milazzo said residents could try to lobby agencies like the North Carolina Department of Transportation to do that work more quickly and dedicate more funding to it, but there’s no guarantee that will mean a shorter timeline.
“It took nine years just to get here,” he said. “You should never be surprised at how long transportation projects take but that they get done at all.”
Milazzo also gave Wendell residents another piece of advice to help reiterate the importance of the future I-495: he suggested completely ditching the US 64 name.
“Any time you have federal designation ... more people will see the importance (of the road),” he said.