As you head north on Interstate 95 at Exit 107 for Kenly and US 301, you'll notice something odd about the overhead sign for the exit. Peeling off the sign for all that can see is the word 'NORTH' off-center from the US 301. This old sign (probably close to original from when this section of I-95 opened - more on that in a little bit) gives a hint to a short-lived Business Interstate Route that ran from here to Rocky Mount.
|The last hint of the Kenly-Wilson-Rocky Mount Business I-95 (Shaun White - August 2020)|
Interstate 95 in North Carolina has a unique history. But one of the overlooked and forgotten pieces of Interstate 95 in North Carolina is the 38 mile section between Kenly and Rocky Mount. When opened to traffic in late 1978, it was the next to last piece of Interstate 95 in North Carolina to open replacing a four lane US 301 from Battleboro through Rocky Mount and Wilson to eventually tying back into the Interstate in Kenly.
Though it was not delayed in legal battles like the freeway gap in Fayetteville, it did take a good bit of time to complete - mainly because the existing US 301 was sufficient enough at the time. US 301 was four lanes the entire way from Kenly north to Battleboro.
In the mid-1950s, North Carolina began constructing a four lane US 301 that generally followed the 1947 National System of Interstate Highways Plan.(1) Rural areas of US 301 were twinned, two lane bypasses of Rocky Mount and Wilson were built (later expanded), and a new US 301 route was being constructed in Johnston and Harnett Counties. From 1955 to 1960, this four lane freeway extended northwards from Benson to Kenly and southwards from Dunn to just outside of Fayetteville. By 1960, this would be come Interstate 95 between exits 56 and 107.
|US 301 / Interstate 95 under construction at Kenly - 1957. (NCDOT Historical Aerial Imagery Index)|
Interstate 95 had ended at Kenly since 1960. Currently, the Kenly exit is a partial cloverleaf interchange. However, for nearly 20 years there was a different configuration. The four lane interstate 95 bent slightly to the northeast and transitioned to continue north on a four lane US 301. There was an at grade intersection for traffic that wanted to go south of US 301.
|Interstate 95 ends at Kenly and transitions into US 301 in 1970. The at-grade intersection with US 301 south is shown. (NCDOT Historical Aerial Imagery Index)|
Fortunately, the state had plans for a continuation of the highway northwards with a small amount of grading completed for Interstate 95 to the immediate north of the transition to US 301. (Shown at best in the 1957 photo.)
|Interstate 95 at Gold Rock in 1975. A number of motels and gas stations have popped up in the short seven years I-95 had been open. More, including a Howard Johnson's, would open by the end of the decade. (NCDOT Historical Aerial Imagery Index)|
When Interstate 95 was extended southwards from US 158 in Roanoke Rapids to the tiny community of Gold Rock (Exit 145) in 1968, traffic would be routed onto the still existing trumpet interchange onto a newly built four lane connector from Interstate 95 to US 301 in Battleboro. When constructing the Gold Rock Interchange, NCDOT continued construction of Interstate 95 for about a mile southward.
|The unused dead end of Interstate 95 about a mile south of Exit 145 - 1975. It wasn't until late 1978 that traffic would finally use this empty stretch of highway. (NCDOT Historical Aerial Imagery Index)|
The area around Exit 145 immediately boomed overnight with a number of motor lodges and gas stations built. This was in addition to the numerous motor courts, motels, service stations, and other businesses that were along US 301 from Rocky Mount to Kenly.
As traffic volumes increased throughout the 1970s, it was time to complete the 38 mile gap. Construction appears to have gone smoothly even with taking approximately one-third of Governor Jim Hunt's farmland in Wilson County. (2) The 38 mile gap between exits 107 and 145 would finally open to traffic on November 21, 1978. (3)
|Business Interstate 95 |
The designation was short-lived as NCDOT removed the designation in 1986. Into the 2000's, there was still some evidence of Business Interstate 95 remaining. On the US 64 freeway in Rocky Mount, the guide signs at the US 301 By-Pass/Wesleyan Blvd interchange still had an empty spot which once posted Business Interstate 95 shields. These were removed when a sign upgrade occurred around 2010.
The Kenly sign is the only known remnant of this short-lived Business Interstate route. It's not long for this world either as improvements to Interstate 95 will certainly replace this sign in the near future.
Sources & Links:
- (1) Turner, Walter R. Paving Tobacco Road: A Century of Progress by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2003. 60-63.
- (2) "'Missing Link' Opened." The Lexington Dispatch. December 16, 1980.
- (3) "Opening of I-95 set for Monday." Spring Hope Enterprise. November 16, 1978.
- Shaun White
- NCDOT Historical Aerial Imagery Index
- Business Interstate 95 @ NCRoads.com Annex ---Mike Roberson
- Interstate 95 @ NCRoads.com ---Mike Roberson