The future looks bright for downtown businesses, as the project to light the Laurinburg business exits off US-74 has finally broken ground after two years of planning.
“They have started to dig the holes and lay out where the lights will go,” said Tourism Development Authority Director Cory Hughes on Thursday. “There are about 50 businesses and 1,000 jobs directly related to traffic on 74, and the more folks we can get to stop, the more money there will be going into the hands of people in Laurinburg to create jobs.”
First brought to the Laurinburg City Council in 2011 by Hughes in September of 2011, the lighting project cost about $455,000.
The TDA contributed $100,000 toward that total, with the state Department of Transportation matching with another $100,000 and the city of Laurinburg footing the bill for the remainder.
The city will also pay for annual maintenance and utilities costs of approximately $13,000.
When Hughes first presented the plan for highway exit lighting he was encouraged by the city council to produce evidence that lighting would actually be helpful. When Hughes returned the next year with a study indicating that exit lighting in Anderson, S.C. boosted business revenue by as much as 25 percent, the city got on board.
“(Anderson) is about two years ahead of where we are right now and they found that evening receipts in stores and restaurants was up from five to 25 percent,” Hughes said on Thursday.
Once installed, the lights will also make Laurinburg more appealing for certain chain restaurants and large stores, Hughes indicated.
“There are chains that won’t even consider a town unless it has lighted exits.
“If the restaurants are telling us it makes sense and our research in South Carolina reinforced that, it was something we needed to do,” he said.
City Manager Charles Nichols said that he expects the lighting project to make the Laurinburg exit look more secure in the evenings. Nichols also said that it would be wise to tie Laurinburg’s growth to that of the busy highway.
“It will attract people to the city off 74 and make it seem like a safe, well lit place to stop and as 74 grows and traffic on 74 grows, we are hoping to be an attractive destination,” Nichols said.
Research also indicates, Hughes said, that women driving along the highway “are much more likely to stop at an exit that has lights.”
The North Carolina Department of Transportation estimates that the lighting project will be completed by January of 2014 and that it is currently “10 percent” completed.