Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

I-95 follows well-worn paths

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If you watched any TV weather reports over the past couple of weeks — and who didn’t? — you no doubt heard the term “I-95 corridor” being used, abused and tossed about by every reporter and weather forecaster out there, both locally and on the Weather Channel.

“I-95 corridor” seems to rank right up there with “storm surge,” “heat index,” “European model” and “catastrophic” as being among the most important terms found in the weather forecaster lexicon.

We all know about Interstate 95, the north-south thoroughfare that passes through many of our communities. Some of us drive it every day, others when going north to Washington, south to Disney World and to all other points in between.

Interstate 95 runs 1,908.74 miles from Maine to Florida, serves 110 million people and greatly affects much of our country’s economy. Countless truckers use this well-known highway daily to deliver their goods and if it were to completely shut down, our nation would likely come to a standstill.

Some 181.71 miles of the highway passes through North Carolina from Pleasant Hill at the north border to Rowland at the south border.

While it’s unclear when or how the phrase “I-95 corridor” became such a standard with the weather people, its use suggests it could be referring to either a large physical barrier like the Great Wall of China or, to a lesser degree, something like the Yellow Brick Road.

Regardless, you seldom hear mention made about U.S. 301 corridor or I-40 corridor, so there must be something special about the 1-95 corridor that makes it carry more importance.

I did some research and learned some fascinating facts about the highway, particularly on how it came to be located where it is today. Relatively speaking, Interstate 95 is not very old.

Although it came about through the Federal Highway Act of 1956, its basic route began taking shape thousands of years ago thanks to our early Native Americans.

While no automobiles existed back then, historians tell us people still traveled long distances in search of food, better living conditions or just to visit each other. They made their way on foot or horseback.

Geography was a major factor they had to consider when traveling and the rough terrain along the way, coupled with no bridges for crossing large bodies of water, meant travelers needed to know the paths of least resistance.

Information learned from taking these routes was passed down from generation to generation. As modes of travel were upgraded, those early paths became wagon and stagecoach trails.

George Washington made his trips down South in the late 1700s using routes near those established many years previously.

The introduction of automobiles in the early 20th century brought about a need for paved highways. It was logical and easier to build these highways either near or directly over already established routes.

U.S. 217, completed in 1926, was the first highway built along the general path that eventually became Interstate 95.

U.S. 301 replaced U.S. 217 in 1932 and continued to serve as the primary North-South highway over the next 30 years.

The first stretch of 1-95 that officially opened in North Carolina was in 1961, from mile marker 56 in Fayetteville to mile marker 107 at Kenly.

Another section opened in 1964 from Saint Pauls to Lumberton, followed shortly afterwards by a stretch from Roanoke Rapids to the Virginia state line.

In 1969, the highway was extended from Roanoke Rapids to exit 145 at the Gold Rock community in Rocky Mount.

In 1973, the segment from Saint Pauls to the South Carolina state line opened.

Except for the span running between Kenly and Gold Rock, today’s 1-95 closely parallels the existing path of old U.S. 301 throughout North Carolina and in other states as well. At several places along the route, the highways actually crisscross or run together.

While modes of transportation have changed drastically over the years, the general North-South travel route represented by Interstate 95 established eons ago has not.

Further, it’s not a coincidence the current path of 1-95 runs between and not over Lake Gaston and the Great Dismal Swamp, since that’s where the early trail went.

Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at kbarnes.jhn@wilsontimes.com.

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