Proposed I-42 interchange could impact historic battlefield in Jones & Lenoir Counties

Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 7:46 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 8:50 AM EDT
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KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Friday is the 158th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Wyse Fork - also known as the battle of Kinston. That Civil War battlefield in Jones and Lenoir County is on the National Register of Historic Places, but an NCDOT interchange plan threatens to impact it.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows the history of the Wyse Fork battlefield quite like Dennis Harper.

He’s poured his passion for history into studying it, but now, part of the land that holds a special place in his heart could be impacted by an NCDOT project.

There are some homes, businesses, and roads within the 4,069-acre battlefield, but members of a group called Save Wyse Fork battlefield fear a future I-42 interchange would wipe out a core location of the conflict.

“There were 2,601 American casualties on this battlefield,” said Harper. “That is 200 more than were at Omaha Beach on D-Day at Normandy.”

The future I-42 will run from Raleigh to Morehead City and could include an interchange at the corner of Wyse Fork Road and U.S. 70.

NCDOT officials say they have extensively researched the impact it could have on the area - even sharing their ideas with the public.

“Back in 2019, we had a meeting in August when we presented 12 alternatives,” said NCDOT Assistant Division Construction Engineer Heather Lane. “This shallow bypass, as it’s come to be called, was one of those alternatives.”

Public opinion at that time favored that plan.

Several lawmakers are advocating alongside save Wyse Fork members to move it - including Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County), who wrote a letter to NCDOT.

“They responded, and they said that they are taking a look at this and that they’re conferring with the federal government and with the Army Corps of Engineers and they’re also seeking public comment on the matter,” he explained.

An alternative the group is pushing for is to move the interchange down the road by 1.1 miles outside the battlefield’s boundaries.

But Lane said it’s not simple.

“If you shift the interchange 1.1 miles, there’s no good northern and southern connection point to put the interchange to,” she explained.

But advocates like Harper say they won’t stop until the project is moved.

“Like Dr. Lawrence Babits from Greenville, North Carolina said, ‘Battlefields are not renewable resources. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.’” Harper said.

No final decision has been made to date for where exactly the interchange will go. NCDOT officials said the decision will likely be made in 2024.

They are open to public comment and welcome those concerned with the project to reach out to them.