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"Governor Hunt Cuts Ribbon on Doomsday" - The drawnout legal battle to build the I-95 Fayetteville Bypass

It is Monday, December 15, 1980.  North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt and many other dignitaries take part in a ribbon cutting ceremony opening a new 17 mile stretch of Interstate 95 in Cumberland County.  The new road bypasses Fayetteville to the east and completes Interstate 95 in North Carolina - closing a significant gap in what many consider the backbone highway of the East Coast.  The new road moved Interstate traffic from an at-grade, four lane US 301 lined with numerous motels and restaurants onto a fully controlled and traffic light-free limited access freeway. 

Meanwhile at a Quality Inn along US 301 in Fayetteville, a billboard read "Governor Hunt Cuts Ribbon on Doomsday."(1)

The ribbon cutting put an end to over a decade long heated battle over the routing of Interstate 95 around Fayetteville.  One that made it all the way to the steps of the United States Supreme Court.

Signs along US 301 at Grove Street in 1976.  Interstate 95 traffic would have to travel this four lane boulevard and expressway for decades until the Fayetteville Bypass opened in December 1980.  (Michael Summa, 1976)


Interstate 95 in North Carolina History:

The 181 mile Interstate 95 has a unique story in North Carolina.  Heavily traveled, but more as a through route for out of state travelers, I-95 within North Carolina is sometimes known more for the plentiful South of the Border roadside attraction billboards than anything else.

Interstate 95's origins in North Carolina date prior to the formal creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956.  A two lane bypass of Lumberton would open in the early 1950s and would slowly be upgraded to Interstate standards.  An expressway section of US 301 between Dunn and Benson would be the first section of Interstate 95 to open to traffic in 1958. (2)  By 1960, the Benson-Dunn segment would be upgraded to Interstate standards and the highway would be completed northwards to Kenly and southwards to Eastover.

Interstate 95's Status in North Carolina as of January 1, 1959.  Much of the highway was unbuilt and what was built was not yet up to standards. (North Carolina State Highway Commission, 1959)


South of Fayetteville to Lumberton was connected by 1962, and by 1965 the Lumberton Bypass was brought up to Interstate standards.  Interstate 95 would be completed to the South Carolina State Line by 1973.

From the North, I-95 from the Virginia State Line to US 158 near Roanoke Rapids would open in 1964.  The highway would continue south to Gold Rock in 1968.

At the end of 1973, there would be two significant gaps in Interstate 95.  A 38 mile gap between Gold Rock and Kenly, and the 17 mile section in Fayetteville.  The Gold Rock/Kenly section would open in November 1978 leaving the Fayetteville Bypass the last to open.

Battle over the Bypass:

Early in the process, the state decided that a new corridor for Interstate 95 to the east of existing US 301 was needed.  As early as 1962, NCDOT realized that upgrading the four lane US 301 in Fayetteville would not be a feasible option.  They had begun the process to finalize a corridor that would run about three miles to the east of US 301 and further away from the city.
Interstate 95's Status in January 1963.  The Interstate through Fayetteville was considered as four lanes open - not up to standard with a new corridor selected.  This new corridor would not be opened for another 17 years. (NC Division of Highways, 1963)
In fact, the connection of modern day Interstate 95 and US 301 at the southern end of the bypass was built with the eventual bypass in mind.  As you approached Fayetteville on I-95 North, the highway had a series of curves and median changes before joining US 301.  These lanes that would transition from the Interstate grade I-95 to the expressway grade US 301 would eventually become the ramps for what is now Exit 40.

Interstate 95 transitions onto US 301 south of Fayetteville in 1964.  The state had built this transition in preparation for the eventual bypass.  (NCDOT, 1964)

It was this decision to route Interstate 95 to the east of US 301 that began the legal challenges.  Business owners along US 301 feared that the new highway would result in an annual $40 million in lost income. (3)  The business and motel owners along the US 301 corridor banded together with the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce to form the "I-95 Committee" in an effort to move the Interstate's routing along US 301. 

At the urging of US 301 business owners, the City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County would commission a study of their own comparing the Division of Highway's bypass route and their own route.  This  suggested route along the existing US 301 corridor would include a partially elevated highway. (4)  The Fayetteville/Cumberland County consultant study advocated building the elevated US 301 route.

The details of this bypass route would be explained in the 1972 Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  The US 301 alternative consisted of two designs and two "elevated options" closer to Grove Street.

Both designs would call for a six lane freeway built over an upgraded US 301.  Scheme 1 was based off a 70 mile per hour design that would include a 68 foot median from what is now Exit 40 to Owen Drive/Gillespie Street.  From there, the median would narrow to 22 feet with a New Jersey barrier until after crossing the Cape Fear River to around the Middle Road Interchange.

Scheme 2 would be based on a 60 mph design and would have the 22' wide median with barrier the entire length.

Both options would consist of seven interchanges - NC 59, what is now NC 162, Airport Road, Owen Drive/Gillepsie Street, NC 87, Grove Street, and a relocated NC 24 called the Cape Fear Expressway.  If the 70 mph option was built a larger exit 40 interchange would have been built.

The biggest and what would be the most costly difference were the two options to build the Interstate from McDuffie Street to the Cape Fear River just north of Grove Street.  Two considerations were given to 'elevate' the highway.

The first was the fill option.  This would construct Interstate 95 on top of fill to the west of the existing US 301/Eastern Boulevard.  The fill would lift the highway between 20-25 feet above the existing US 301 grade.  Eastern Boulevard would be converted into a Frontage Road and a new Frontage Road would be built to the west of the fill alignment between McDuffie and Person Streets.

The second was an elevated viaduct that would be built over top of the existing Eastern Boulevard/US 301 roadway.   The viaduct would be 30 feet above the existing roadway, which would then become a frontage road.  

Below is a Google Map that I created that shows the planned interchanges and the fill alignment for the US 301 Alternative.


Though the US 301 route was touted by the Chamber of Commerce, it is interesting to note the difference in the amount of homes and businesses that would need to be relocated between the bypass and the US 301 alternative.

According to the 1972 Draft EIS, the number of relocations of businesses and residencies were as follows.

Source: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for I-95 Bypass, Federal Highway Administration, 1972.


The Legal Battles Begin

In 1966, the State Highway Commission held public hearings on the two routes and ultimately recommended the bypass route stating that it was less costly, would handle traffic more efficiently,ad have less over all impact during construction. (4)  In March of 1968, the bypass route was approved.  Three months later, the I-95 Committee and Chamber of Commerce filed suit.  They claimed that the United States Secretary of Transportation did not give adequate consideration to the local economic impact of the route, that he relied on an "appalling" statement on the economic justification of the route from the Division of Highways, and that they did not prepare an adequate Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). (4) The case ultimately went to the United States District Court for the Eastern North Carolina District in August 1970. The district court ruled in favor of the Highway Division choice of the bypass.

The I-95 Committee filed its first appeal to the US Court of Appeals 4th Circuit in the Spring of 1972.  The 4th Circuit upheld the lower court's decision; however, they did remand back to the district court requesting that an EIS be completed.  Although the EIS was not required in 1966, changes to the Federal-Aid Highway Act now required an EIS to be completed.  Using precedent from Arlington Coalition on Transportation et al. v. Volpe, 458 F.2d 1323 (4th Cir. 1972), "these statutes were held to apply retrospectively to an ongoing highway project ... if the project has not reached a stage of completion at which it would not be economically feasible to alter or abandon the project's proposed location." (5)

In anticipation of the ruling as a result of Arlington, North Carolina commenced an EIS study in 1971.  A Draft EIS was submitted to the District Court in May 1973. (6)  Following public hearings in the Summer of 1973, the Final EIS was submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in August 1973 and the bypass routing was approved for a second time in October 1973.  The District Court ruled in favor of the bypass routing in February 1974.

The I-95 Committee was not done.  They again filed an appeal with the 4th Circuit Court, and the case was heard in December 1974.  During the appeal, the I-95 Committee pointed to another route alternative that they argued was presented but was never considered by the state or presented as an option to the FHWA in the Final EIS.  This alternative routing would run closer to US 301 than the bypass route and would be shorter and cost less.  This route was submitted by what the I-95 Committee described as a well-respected and long time resident of Fayetteville after the EIS Public Hearing in July of 1973. (6)  It appears that the aerial-photograph submission was made in September 1973 and that there was no minutes of this suggestion being made in the July 1973 Public Hearing. 

An internal memo within the Division of Highways said that the route had only one advantage over the bypass route compared to 13 disadvantages.  In addition, the summary of the last minute proposal said that it would add an additional four years to the project. (6)  The 4th Circuit Court was doubtful that the additional suggestion was made in the time period for the NC Division of Highways to include in the report to the FHWA and also commented that the state was within the "bounds of reason" not to report it to the Federal Highway Administration. (6)

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling in May 1975.

Yet, the I-95 Committee was still not done.  In August 1975, they filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court on the basis that the state did not properly consider the private citizen's compromise route. (3)  In October 1975, the Supreme Court, without taking arguments, affirmed the decision of the lower courts and the decade long battle over 17 miles of Interstate 95 in Fayetteville was over.  In December 1975, the North Carolina Board of Transportation reaffirmed their decision on the bypass route and construction began the following year. (7)

Outcome:

With the bypass' opening, Interstate 95 was fully completed within North Carolina.  Travel times were shortened as many travelers along Interstate 95 drive through the state on their way too or from the Northeast from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.   As a result of the legal delays, much of the highway is to more modern Interstate standards compared to sections to its immediate North and South. 

Though not "Doomsday", activity along US 301 and Eastern Boulevard would see a significant impact as a result of the new highway's opening.

Although US 301 received a Business Loop 95 designation along with signs on Interstate 95 detailing the number of hotels, restaurants and gas stations along US 301 were open and available, many of the businesses along US 301 and Eastern Boulevard would see decline and eventually close. 

Today, many of the remaining former motor hotels and lodges are either blighted or see frequent issues with law enforcement

Sources & Links:
Update Log:
  • June 22, 2019 - Article First Published
  • July 14, 2020 - Article updated with new information about the design options of the US 301 alternatives

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