After being closed for over a year, the new Third Street Bridge opened Monday morning in front of local and state officials as well as some community members.
“This is a very important project for the City of Wilmington,” said Mayor Bill Saffo, noting officials had been talking about getting the old bridge replaced for a long time. “It was a little bit behind schedule because of all the rain [in the last year] … but it will be a great asset to the community for years to come.”
The old bridge was built in 1920 and featured a large hump in the middle to allow for train cars to pass underneath on the old CSX rail line. That former line is undergoing a transformation to a greenway, while the new bridge, which spans the block between Campbell and Hanover Streets, is more level. The bridge passes by two new Cape Fear Community College buildings: the Hanover Street parking deck and the Humanities and Fine Arts Center. Though the bridge is modern, its design reflects the 1920s era of the original bridge, with balusters and classic street lamps.
“This is a welcoming gateway for this city and people who travel this route,” said North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson. “The fact that this is an attractive structure is something the community can take pride in.”
The project was announced in 2013 after the City of Wilmington spent $10.4 million to upgrade the Third Street streetscape. The state-maintained bridge was not part of that project, but the NCDOT and city entered into an agreement to rebuild it. According to Saffo, the state spent $4.6 million on the bridge, while the city just “paid to have these street lamps turned on.”
“The partnership between the city and the DOT is an example of cooperation,” Tennyson said. “This is an expression of what we can do as a group.”
Gov. Pat McCrory said he hopes the bridge sets an example for other municipalities across the state as the economy grows and with it, the need for better connectivity.
“Your mayor gets it. Your city council gets it. This is what we need in center cities,” McCrory said. “We want to take this replica and transfer it to all cities and towns in North Carolina … I think it’s going to bring economic revitalization to this area, and it’s working.”
McCrory echoed Saffo and Tennyson’s comments about the bridge providing a better gateway to southeastern North Carolina’s largest city and economic hub.
“The bridge ought to be welcoming [architecturally],” McCrory said. “It shows that you’re connected to the state of North Carolina and its people.”
Improved transportation infrastructure is high on McCrory’s priority list as the state continues to grow economically and population-wise. The Republican governor is trying to get road bonds on a ballot in the near future and has already set aside $50 million in reserves from the state’s budget surplus to go toward that potential debt service.
“We have to put more investments into transportation,” McCrory said. “We better prepare for that growth as opposed to react to it.”
One of the projects a future transportation bond could pay for is a third bridge over the Cape Fear River to connect Wilmington with Leland. The Isabel Holmes Bridge on the north end of downtown and the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge on the south end are often backed up, causing headaches for those who commute between Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
“We’re certainly supportive of it,” said Tennyson. “It’s something we’d like to see happen.”
“We need to accelerate projects like that bridge,” added McCrory.
For now, state officials are excited about the opportunities the new and improved Third Street Bridge will provide for North Carolina’s eighth-largest city.
“The future is bright here in Wilmington, much like this weather,” Tennyson said.
“Let’s continue the economic vitality, let’s continue the tourism, let’s continue the great quality of life that’s second to none,” McCrory ended.