PENDER COUNTY — To prepare for current and future economic needs in a growing area of Pender County, the state is investing millions of dollars in roadway improvements near U.S. Highway 421 at the New Hanover County line.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation approved $4 million last year in economic development funds. The money will be used for three transportation projects near Pender Commerce Park.
Pender County Board of Commissioners approved donated easements Monday to assist.
“The intention of the improvements is to make the flow of traffic in and out of the park easier for large trucks and improve the overall safety of the intersections,” county manager David Andrews told Port City Daily. “Pender County is grateful to NCDOT for the improvements and did not ask for any compensation for the easements.”
The state agency will be making upgrades at three intersections: Corporate Drive, Quality Way and Vitamin Drive.
At U.S. 421 and Corporate Drive — the most northern entrance to the park — NCDOT plans to install a new traffic signal. It will also create offset left turn lanes in both northbound and southbound lanes. By shifting the left turns farther into where the median currently sits, the sight line for drivers will be vastly improved, according to NCDOT division 3 project development engineer Katie Hite.
Corporate Drive will be widened but the existing sidewalk will remain intact.
Pender County is allowing use of Corporate Drive as a temporary construction easement.
A new intersection will be constructed at U.S. 421 and Quality Way. To do so, crews will have to break the median and lay asphalt where there is none; however, a traffic signal is not going to be installed. Both north and southbound lanes will be widened to accommodate U-turns.
To assist, Pender County is allowing NCDOT a temporary construction easement at Quality Way. It’s also donating 21 acres within the park, between Vitamin Drive and Cow Pen Landing Road, for a permanent drainage and utility easement.
An easement is also required from Pender Commerce Park tenant Coastal Beverage Company, which Hite said has already been acquired.
“There’s quite a bit of industry in that park that have large vehicles,” Pender County commissioner chair Jackie Newton told PCD. “And traffic of workers coming back and forth; it’s fairly congested. This needed to happen.”
U.S. 421 handles on average 6,300 to 11,000 vehicles daily, between the New Hanover County border to north of Pender Commerce Park, according to NCDOT.
The 330-acre Pender Commerce Park opened in 2013 with its first tenant Acme Smoked Fish. Andrews said Pender County is actively recruiting investment opportunities at the commerce park with partners Wilmington Business Development. So far almost a dozen businesses have moved in, including Coastal Beverage Co., Empire Distributors, FedEx, and Polyhose.
RealtyLink announced plans in late 2021 to construct 300,000 square feet of refrigerated warehouse space. Ramm Capital Partners is also building two industrial spec buildings in the park. The first $8-million 126,360-square-foot facility is now fully leased with a mix of tenants — Atlantic Tire Distributors, Professional Builders Supply and SCP Distributors LLC. Ramm purchased another 39.5 acres in the park in September 2021 and announced in July 2022 it was building a second 144,900-square-foot building to be available later this year.
Amazon is opening a warehouse distribution center on 40 acres at the park. The 142,000-square-foot facility will operate as a delivery center. Originally intended to open in 2023, the project has been delayed, according to Amazon spokesperson Greg Rios.
“While we don’t have a specific launch date to share right now, once we have a better sense of timing, we’ll work to hire more than 100 people at the site,” he wrote in a statement to PCD.
A county wastewater treatment facility is also on site.
The request for the roadway improvements came over a year ago, when Seefried Industrial Properties was looking to locate within Pender Commerce Park. While the company ended up postponing its expansion plans, its request for roadway improvements got the ball rolling.
Newton told PCD that the state transportation department “was just absolutely phenomenal in pushing this through.”
It approved the economic development funds last April; Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham, Guilford) also sent a letter of support for the project.
NCDOT partners with the N.C. Department of Commerce to allocate economic development funds to provide transportation improvements and infrastructure that contribute to industrial and commercial growth, as well as create jobs. The funds are appropriated to the program annually according to legislation enacted in 2015.
While there are currently no tenants at the commerce park’s adjacent site, NCDOT has road improvements planned there as well, specifically at U.S. 421 and Vitamin Drive, an entrance to the brownfield site.
The 400-acre property was formerly the site of BASF’s Care Chemicals Division and is being developed as future economic development space. The county purchased the property in 2010 for $1.6 million.
Last January, commissioners approved a $500,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to demolish the property’s six structures, parking area, lighting and utilities. The county also paid Wood Environment and Instrument Solutions $187,350 in March 2021 to consult on decommissioning the land. More than $1 million was doled out to for remediation
“The outer rim and potential interest on the prior brownsfield side, has not been used as an entrance to the park currently but could be and would be with the improvements,” Newton said to PCD. “[It] needed to be beefed up to handle the capacity.”
At Monday’s meeting, Newton said it was “rare” for NCDOT to make road improvements prior to having a plan for tenants to move in.
“We have the means to make improvements,” Hite said in response. “We’re going to take advantage in order to better the corridor.”
NCDOT also will widen and restripe the I-140 ramp in New Hanover that connects with U.S. 421, about 3 miles from the park. Crews will construct dual left- and right-turn lanes to accommodate growing traffic. The projects will be done simultaneously, rather than phased over time.
NCDOT plans to begin construction on the road improvement next month and will wrap in August.
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