The N.C. Department of Transportation is taking away the main entrance to Double Barley Brewing in Johnston County. And the owners are thrilled.
Brewers Cheryl and Larry Lane will lose the driveway as part of a project prepping U.S. 70 Highway to become the future Interstate 42. Double Barley isn’t hard to find, but relies on directions like “the first left after the Family Dollar” to get people into the taproom. Now, Cheryl said, they can just name an exit.
“We’re definitely impacted, but we’re impacted in a good way,” Lane said of the changes. “70 is a very fast road and right now people have to turn off of it to get to us. For me as a business owner, it’s way better for me to say ‘exit blah blah blah’ so people know where to find us.”
The changes will take Wilson’s Mills from a two stoplight town to a no-stoplight town. DOT is taking the U.S. 70 intersections at Swift Creek Road and Wilson’s Mills Road and turning them into exits. For Swift Creek, a bridge will be built over the highway. At Wilson’s Mills Road, the more developed of the two, the highway will be shifted to the south and a bridge will be built over the road.
“One of the main goals of the project is to increase the safety along the corridor,” said DOT project manager Matt Clarke. “The easiest way to improve safety is to no longer have an intersection.”
This is a fast five-mile stretch of Highway 70, where the speed limit drops from 70 miles per hour to 55. Removing the stop lights and closing off the driveways and business entrances will cause headaches for some and a culture shift for many. Employees of contractor S.T. Wooten will now have to get to their facility by way of a to-be-constructed service road, turning what used to be a right turn into a four-mile excursion.
At the Wilson’s Mills intersection, Clarke said the highway was shifted to the south so it wouldn’t affect a group of businesses. That intersection has a Family Dollar, a Handy Mart gas station and a White Swan Barbeque. The new exit will one day be the route that drivers take to get to Double Barley Brewing.
“For me it’s a big bonus; it’s going to get people to us even faster,” Lane said. “It’s getting them to where they can find us. It’s going to put us more on the map.”
Aside from safety, Clarke said the project would improve mobility along the highway. In this case, mobility means getting those in the Triangle to the beach faster, which is one of the main drivers of the future Interstate 42.
Wilson’s Mills is enjoying some of the residential growth going on across Johnston County, but has seen little in the way of commercial projects. Taking away the stoplights could mean even less of a reason to stop in the small town, but Mayor Phillip Wright is optimistic.
“The intersections will help; Swift Creek is one of the most accident-prone intersections in Johnston County,” Wright said. “I just don’t know what the impact will be. I suspect time will tell. There’s been some commercial interest around Swift Creek.”
Town councilman Kenneth Jones will lose a fair chunk of land to make way for the highway changes, closing a car lot he leases to a business owner and cutting off a corner of a cow pasture. Jones says it’s the price of progress.
“It’s like anything else,” Jones said. “Progress is coming. I think it’s a good thing for Wilson’s Mills. If I’m going to be on the board, I’ve got to look at in a positive manner because it’s best for the town.”
Like the mayor, Jones hopes developers will see opportunity in building near the future exits, pointing out more than 400 acres north and south of the highway.
“That could be a win-win for the town,” Jones said. “Some of that could be developed as commercial, but a large portion would be for homes. ... Anything in Johnston County, if you can put in one tract of land that’s 100 acres-plus, you’ve got something to deal with. That can be asset to a builder for commercial or residential.”
Construction costs for the project will run around $31 million, Clarke said, and that $7.8 million had been set aside for right of way acquisition. Clarke said DOT will start buying land and easements this October and that construction is slated to begin in October of 2019 and take 24 months.
This will just about do it for stoplights on 70 in Johnston County and Wayne County, one of the chief obstacles for eastern-bound beach goers. Clarke said two lights will remain in Princeton for now and that another is already on the chopping block near Pine Level.
A public meeting on the Wilson’s Mills projects will be held Monday, July 17, at Wilson’s Mills Elementary School from 4 to 7 p.m. DOT engineers will be on hand to answer questions about the conversions of intersections to exits, but no formal presentation will be made.
For more information, or to look at a map of the project, visit www.ncdot.gov/projects/publicmeetings/.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson