The opening of Interstate 140 Wilmington Bypass is scheduled to take place soon, opening up new avenues for traffic and opportunities for development and business in northern Brunswick County and the region.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the I-140 bypass is planned for Friday, according to Brian Rick, spokesman with the N.C. Department of Transportation. A soft opening of the new roadway will follow.
The I-140 bypass, which connects U.S. 17 in Brunswick and New Hanover counties, will still undergo lane closures once open to complete cleaning and painting of structure until early spring 2018, Rick said.
The road consists of 7.58 miles in a four-lane divided highway with 19 bridges, 11 of which are over railroad tracks and two of which are more than 7,000-foot-long structures over the Cape Fear River. Total construction costs for the project were more than $200 million, according to NCDOT.
“The completion of I-140 — as related to economic development — will be a critical piece of transportation infrastructure that will better support the capabilities of the Wilmington micro-region to promote additional economic growth opportunities in the logistics and distribution business sector," said Steve Yost, president of the North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, in an email.
The Wilmington micro-region is part of four micro-regions in the county base of N.C. Southeast, which has developed an overall plan and custom marketing strategies for each. Wilmington's port is also part of that strategy for the regional economic development group.
On the effects the bypass will have on the Port of Wilmington, Yost said. “It will also provide important connectivity with the Port, as part of the micro-region’s mid-point location on the east coast.”
On the development side, Christopher Rogers, whose firm Lincoln Development Company has about 350 acres of holdings in Navassa
, said that once the bypass is open to traffic, it will "reveal an unknown diamond in the rough."
“Navassa has always been there … it’s just not known,” Rogers said. “There are two interchanges that will interchange in and out of Navassa on I-140 and it opens up lots of possibilities. In many ways, the town itself becomes a bedroom community to Wilmington, like Waterford and Brunswick Forest has to Wilmington."
No commitments have been made on the firm's property in Navassa, Rogers said on Wednesday. Interest has been expressed, however, in its potential to hold small retail, hotels, apartments and a small strip mall, he said.
Some undeveloped land around I-140 in the Navassa area could start to see some construction activity in late 2018, likely to be commercial in the beginning, said Jim Wallace, CEO of Intracoastal Realty. Wallace is one of 12 partners in Wilmington River Club, which owns nearly 800 acres of land in the area, with 30 acres zoned for commercial right off the I-140 ramp at Navassa.
"That land is going to be a perfect location for restaurants, hotel, a gas station and a convenience store -- that kind of thing. The typical things that you would see on an interstate," Wallace said. "That commercial area should be very, very popular."
The other 770 acres of the land is zoned residential, permitted for more than 2,000 residential units. That land includes several miles of riverfront on the Northeast Cape Fear River, making it an ideal site for the landscape and waterfront, Wallace said.
"We are in the process now working with several developers that want to buy a section of that property to develop a community there," he said.
There is one tract of the property under contract with a developer that wants to put a 55-and-older community on the site, Wallace said. "They are doing their due diligence now so it will be interesting," he added.
"[I-140 bypass] is going to be a huge asset to the community," Wallace said. "It's going to open opportunity and a way for people to get out of that congestion on U.S. 17."