CLAYTON — After nearly two decades of on-again, off-again planning, work is nearly complete on the Front Street extension, a stretch of pavement that will connect N.C. 42 East to downtown.
Town leaders say the 1.3-mile connector will open by month’s end, at the latest.
The street stretches from the highway to just north of Mill Street near the Post Office. A roundabout is located at the street’s intersection with the entrance to The Arbors at East Village, a new 192-unit apartment complex.
The project also includes a 10-foot-wide multipurpose paved trail that stretches from the highway, past the apartment complex and into downtown. Town leaders plan to eventually connect the trail to the Clayton Riverwalk on the Neuse and to the long-range Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Clayton Planning Director David DeYoung said the N.C. Department of Transportation plans to complete the project and turn the street over to the town on July 18.
“It’s a project that we wanted for a long time, but it took a long time to come to fruition,” DeYoung said.
The project dates back to the mid-1990s, when the Town of Clayton began looking for ways to improve emergency response and traffic flow to the northeast portion of downtown.
Historically, first responders have had to cross railroad tracks to get to calls north or east of Front Street. The town proposed the extension to give Clayton Fire Department easier access from its satellite station on N.C. 42 East.
Town leaders also envisioned the new road as a quicker path to downtown for residents who live in east Clayton. Right now, drivers coming from N.C. 42 East must turn right onto U.S. 70 Business, then right onto Main Street to get into downtown.
But despite Clayton’s longtime desire for the new street, the project likely would have languished without interest from private developers and federal funding.
In the mid-2000s, developer Hubie Tolson of New Bern saw the road as a catalyst for East Village, a residential community of single-family homes. The town approved initial plans for the subdivision in 2005.
However, after funding for the road didn’t come through and the housing-market crash slowed spending, Tolson put the project on hold. But in 2010, Tom Taft of Taft Family Offices in Greenville joined with Tolson and started planning The Arbors at East Village apartment complex to accompany Tolson’s earlier proposal. The Clayton Town Council approved the group’s mix of houses and apartments in 2012.
Last July, crews started construction on the road.
Clayton applied for and received about $1.3 million for the project from the Federal Highway Administration. The East Village developers, in addition to donating right-of-way for the project, have paid about $742,000 for the road to date.
The town has spent $375,000, which includes the cost of the multipurpose trail and the relocation of power lines, among other costs, said Tim Simpson, the town’s public works and utilities director.
Michael McCarty, director of development for Taft Family Offices, said the multipurpose trail gives residents of The Arbors at East Village a way to walk, run or bike to downtown.
“This is livening up our parcel,” McCarty said, adding other developers are already planning projects on the new road.
“We’ve been really happy with the town, and they have been really forward-thinking with greenways and multi-use trails,” McCarty said. “This is a good model for new suburban, small-town development.”
Other prospective projects along East Front Street include restoration of the historic Clayton Spinning Mill, located behind the post office. Two business partners are converting the spinning mill into space for fitness programming, restaurants and retail. The project also calls for an 80,000-square-foot multi-sport facility.
In past years, some residents who live near the new road voiced concerns that future development would lead to increased traffic. While DeYoung said it’s hard to predict traffic volumes, he expects a good number of drivers to use the new route.
“It will relieve some of the traffic off of (U.S. 70 Business) coming onto Main Street,” DeYoung said. “It redistributes traffic, if anything.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104