City Council to discuss funding study to move rail lines, add trolley

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City Council will meet on Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Photo Courtesy: City of Wilmington

Council members will discuss a resolution to allocate over $100,000 in city funds to begin a feasibility study to relocate rail track to the other side of the Cape Fear River–potentially supporting a more efficient system for increased freight traffic to the Port of Wilmington, along with adding a citywide trolley network to accommodate future growth.

According to city spokeswoman Malissa Talbert, the current proposal is for the city, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and NC DOT to each contribute $100,000 for the study.

During a presentation to City Council last week, Glenn Harbeck, the city’s director of planning, development and transportation, suggested city council consider relocating a 5-mile rail track to the other side of the Cape Fear River so freight trains will have a direct course to the port without going through the center of the city. If this were to happen, modern trolley cars could use the existing track as public transportation for the city, loosening dependence on motor vehicles and the resulting street congestion.

Related story:City officials see potential in proposed trolley system for downtown Wilmington

A new trolley system “could allow for 20,000 employees, students, and visitors to come downtown without cars every day,” he said. “There are about 10,000 housing units and 20,000 persons within one-quarter of a mile of the proposed line today. How many could there be in 25 years?”

According to Councilwoman Laura Padgett, the first move in the process of relocating the rail line is to conduct a feasibility study.

“We have to have a feasibility study to get anything done,” Padgett said during an agenda meeting with city officials. “You can’t just build transportation projects without knowing how they’re going to be designed, where they’re going, and how much they’re going to cost.”

Other items on the agenda include:

  • A resolution to formally enter into contracts with six local organizations to promote economic development and cultural arts with funding slated to include The Arts Council of Wilmington, the Jewish Film Festival, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Cucalorus, WDI, and UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurs.
  • A resolution requesting the NC DOT or the NC General Assembly to accelerate funding for the extension of Scientific Park Drive. This road currently connects only to 23rd Street and the proposed extension would connect 23rd Street to 26th Street, a move that could enhance economic development in the area and allow access to the Kornegay/North 30th Street neighborhood. This connectivity would subsequently allow for the Kornegay Drive connection to the MLK Parkway to close, increasing safety and decreasing congestion on the MLK Parkway. The proposal is for the city and NCDOT to each pay $1.7 million of the total $3.4 million cost to construct the extension.
  • A change to the city’s Land Development Code to allow for cottage-style housing, with courtyard developments with pods of at least four but no more than twelve dwelling units per cluster. Multiple clusters may be developed within a single courtyard development. City Council held a public hearing on this amendment at the July 21, 2015 meeting, but continued the item. If approved, cottage court-style developments would be permitted in some residential zoning districts under certain conditions.

The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. To see the council’s agenda for the evening you can visit their website here.

James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at james.m@portcitydaily.com On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD