Council members took the first steps in moving rail tracks across the Cape Fear River on Tuesday with the passage of a resolution allocating over $100,000 to begin a feasibility study for a city transportation project with the instruction it contain a “bold vision.”
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.
Glenn Harbeck, the city’s director of planning, development and transportation presented the transportation project to City Council members and suggested city council consider accommodating future growth and city-wide development without gridlock. According to Harbeck, relocating a 5-mile rail track to the other side of the Cape Fear River will enable freight trains to 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.
A new trolley system “could allow for 20,000 employees, students, and visitors to come downtown without cars every day,” said Harbeck. “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?”
City officials expect Wilmington to continue to grow, as well. In fact, by 2040, officials expect 130,000 more people in New Hanover county, with 50,000 alone living within Wilmington city limits.
“Think about where Wilmington was 25 years ago,” said Harbeck. “I-40 had just opened, Hardy Parker Farm would not become Mayfaire for another 14 years and New Hanover County had about 140,000 people. Today there are 220,000. Things change quickly.”
“I think it’s a terrific concept,” said Councilwoman Margaret Haynes. “I certainly think this is a win-win situation all the way around. I just hope this doesn’t take 20 years for this to happen; we need to everyone to work together on this to make it happen sooner.”
Mayor Bill Saffo appointed a railroad task force committee to execute Harbeck’s vision. Laura Padgett, County Commissioner Beth Dawson and Harbeck, among other local officials, are among its members who will “get the ball rolling on the project,” Saffo said. The committee will report to the City Council every six months with progress reports on the project. The Mayor did not give a timeline for the committee.
“This could be huge for the people of this city, and I think people would come from around the country to see how we pulled this off,” said Mayor Bill Saffo.
James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD