There are really two faces of Smithfield, the one downtown and the one along Interstate 95. Connecting the two, from I-95 to Bright Leaf Boulevard, is Market Street, an important but imperfect thoroughfare.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO, singled out Smithfield’s Market Street as a hotspot in its year-long Southeast Area Study, a study that focused mainly on Johnston County west of I-95. After a year of meeting with planning officials throughout the county, CAMPO released its findings and recommendations last month at a symposium in Clayton.
Included in those recommendations are significant changes for Smithfield’s heavily traveled east-west connector. The report mentions the widening of Market Street to four lanes, which would require reworking the CSX bridge that passes over the street. For the most part, Market Street from I-95 to Bright Leaf is two lanes with a turn lane, but it narrows to just two lanes as it passes under the railroad.
Alex Rickard, deputy director of CAMPO, said changes to the street and bridge likely lie with the railroad.
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“We’re looking at some sort of structural change,” Rickard said of the railroad bridge, which has ensnared many a truck with its low passage. “It’s really going to be driven by the the (N.C. Department of Transportation) Rail Division as a maintenance project when that thing becomes so structurally deficient that it has to be rebuilt. Then (widening) Market Street actually becomes an option.”
The Southeast Area Study describes the Market Street work as a critical, government-driven project, and Rickard said more improvements could be coming to the stretch from Bright Leaf Boulevard to the interstate.
“The Market Street improvement could be a widening, streetscape, sidewalk, bike lane, complete build-up that may or may not happen all at the same time,” Rickard said. “Because, again, you can’t really widen this to four lanes and then funnel back down to your two lane bridge. What you do on Market Street is really driven by what you do with this bridge.”
Nearby, Rickard said, changes are likely in store for the on and off ramps on northbound I-95. Currently, two hotels have access to the ramps from their driveways. But that access would be closed off, Rickard said, and a connecting road built from Mallard Road to U.S. 70 Business, on the east side of the Johnston County Schools administration building. General updating and realignments would be done to the other ramps at the exit.
Rickard said Johnston Community College plans to build a different entrance to its main campus. Instead of the current entrance closer to the interstate, the college wants to build a connecting road farther west on Market Street. The road would put the college’s main entrance about a quarter-mile closer to downtown.