This summer, city council took the first steps in moving rail tracks across the Cape Fear River, allocating money for a study of the planning commission’s vision for the project and appointing a team of local officials to form a “task force” to get the ball rolling. On October 8, the task force team added three new members.
The new members to the rail realignment task force, chaired by Councilwoman Laura Padgett are effective immediately and include:
- Marc Hamel, NC Department of Transportation Rail Division, Rail Project Manager
- Randy McIntyre, MCO Transport Operations
- Frank Williams, Brunswick County Commissioner
These members are joining the existing task force, consisting of:
- Glenn Harbeck, Planning Director, City of Wilmington
- John Cease, Clear Track Ahead
- Councilman Earl Sheridan
- Beth Dawson, Vice Chair, New Hanover County Commissioner
- Laura Blair, Port of Wilmington
- Jim Van Derzee, CSX Rail
Glenn Harbeck, the city’s director of planning, development and transportation presented the project to City Council members in August 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.
On August 18, the Wilmington City Council passed a resolution in support of a feasibility study that would examine the possibility of moving the CSX rail line for direct access into the Port. The estimated cost of completing the feasibility study is $300,000. The current proposal involves cost-sharing between the City of Wilmington, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, with each entity contributing $100,000 toward the study.
After the passage of the resolution, Mayor Bill Saffo appointed a railroad task force committee to execute Harbeck’s vision. 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.