New legislation moves forward plans for downtown greenway

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The former rail corridor, as seen from the Fourth Street bridge, facing east. Wilmington officials are eyeing the corridor as a public greenway with a multiuse path. File photo.
The former rail corridor, as seen from the Fourth Street bridge, facing east. Wilmington officials are eyeing the corridor as a public greenway with a multiuse path. Port City Daily file photo.

Recent state legislation has enabled an old railroad corridor revitalization plan to take a major step forward in developing a greenway and multi-use trail in downtown Wilmington.

Last week, members of N.C. General Assembly passed Senate Bill 174, which allows the City of Wilmington to lease property from the N.C. Department of Transportation for the multi-use trail.

Wilmington City Council in March approved a resolution that would support requesting legislation from the N.C. General Assembly for the city to lease the property between Third Street and its intersection with McRae Street.

The transportation corridor–known as the Wilmington Downtown Lead –has been abandoned since 1990, when rail provider CSX removed the line that previously served the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The passage of N.C. SB 174 effectively allows the City of Wilmington to develop a public greenway and potential “rail with trail.”

Old rail corridor to get new life as greenway, multi-use trail

“This is an important first step in reactivating that corridor for transportation and recreation in downtown Wilmington…and addresses a number one issue in our 2040 plan” said Mike Kozlosky, director of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO).

The “2040 Plan,” developed by coalition of Cape Fear communities, looks 25 years into the future to examine and evaluate potential roadway, freight and rail, mass transportation, ferry and water transportation, aviation, bicycle and pedestrian projects for the Cape Fear area.

Public input meeting on Cape Fear Transportation 2040 Plan

Kozlosky said a passenger rail service connecting outside cities to downtown Wilmington won’t be established in the next several years, and “this is an important way to use the rail corridor until rail service can be restored.”

But for now, “the next steps for the development of the greenway and public trail are to prepare a master plan for development and then seek funding for the implementation,” Kozlosky said.

According to the bill, the city is allowed to lease the property as long as the following criteria are met:

  • The city of Wilmington agrees in writing to assume all development costs as well as management, security and liability responsibilities as defined by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation.
  • The Department of Transportation determines that there will not likely be a need to resume active rail service in the leased portion of the rail corridor for at least 10 years.
  • The lease agreement allowing trail use includes terms for resumption of active rail use which will assure unbroken continuation of the corridor’s perpetual use for railroad purposes and interim compatible uses.
  • Use of the rail corridor or portions thereof as a recreational trail does not interfere with the ultimate transportation purposes of the corridor as determined by the Department of Transportation.

For more on the 2040 plan, and to see new projects for development in the Cape Fear region, visit the 2040 plan website.