Saturday, July 20, 2024

Hampstead Bypass inches closer to groundbreaking in Pender County

Pender County commissioners approved the $205,825 sale of a parcel at Topsail High School. About one-third of this property will be used for the off-ramp of the future bypass, which will run behind the stadium. (Courtesy)

PENDER COUNTY — Progress on the long-awaited Hampstead Bypass project is moving forward with the purchase of a small tract of land in Pender County.

The Pender County Board of Commissioners approved Monday night the sale of 0.481 acres in the Rocky Point-Topsail Water and Sewer District to N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT). This acquisition is just one piece of the puzzle needed by the state to complete the northern phase of the project, connecting N.C. 210 to an area on U.S. 17, north of Hampstead.

The project has been underway now for 16 years, beginning with project development and environmental studies in 2005. The four-lane route spans 14 miles between New Hanover and Pender counties. Ten of those miles, including six bridges, are in Pender County.

About one-third of this property will be used for the off-ramp of the future bypass, which will run behind Topsail High’s stadium.

“This is one of many parcels DOT has had to obtain for the right of way of the bypass,” County Manager Chad McEwen said. “All along we had conversations with DOT about doing whatever we can do to accommodate areas where they need right of way from us.”

The nearly half-acre property was appraised and sold for $205,825. 

It’s not the first piece of land Pender County has sold to the state. At its Nov. 1 meeting, the board of commissioners approved the $1,675 sale of 0.021 acres at Topsail High School to NCDOT for Hampstead Bypass right of way access. It also approved a temporary construction easement, along the northern portion of St. Johns Church Road, for $18,400.

To complete the right-of-way acquisition for the Hampstead Bypass, NCDOT must acquire a total of 160 parcels in New Hanover and Pender counties. For Segment A of the bypass, from U.S. 17 Wilmington Bypass to N.C. 210, NCDOT has acquired eight of 25 for $4.5 million. Twelve of these are local to Pender County. For Segment B, from N.C. 210 to north of Hampstead, NCDOT has acquired 100 of 135 total parcels, for $86 million, according to NCDOT spokesperson Andrew Barksdale. All 135 parcels for Segment B run through Pender County.

NCDOT anticipates finalizing acquisition of all parcels by December 2023. The Hampstead Bypass Project has an updated estimated cost of $429 million, significantly higher than estimates proposed in 2018, which was $278, according to Barksdale. He said costs continue to rise, with higher construction prices and inflation plaguing progress.

“We are seeing higher construction costs all across the state due to materials and labor costs,” Barksdale said. “Inflation, like we are seeing at the gap pump and grocery aisle, is also affecting the construction industry this year.”

Also adding to increased financing is the May 2020 ruling of the Map Act as unconstitutional. The Map Act previously allowed NCDOT to reserve land for future roads without actually buying it, whereas now landowners expect compensation for the procurement of their properties.

“The state Supreme Court’s ruling nullifying the Map Act, which was a state law that NCDOT relied on for road planning, has significantly raised right-of-way acquisition costs for certain urban loop projects in our state, including the Hampstead Bypass,” Barksdale said.

READ MORE: State buys future Hampstead Bypass land for $17.5m, bill could shield Wilmington from litigation

The recently sold Pender County property is currently a vacant lot of pavement. In the past, it was designated the Hampstead Solid Waste Convenience Center, which serviced heavy-duty garbage trucks regularly. 

In addition to the purchase of the latest Pender County property, NCDOT has agreed to remove all concrete on the land, even in the areas it will not utilize for the off ramp. 

“Obviously, we have no need for it anymore,” McEwen said.

The concrete will be replaced with a pervious surface, such as grass or dirt, according to McEwen. It will allow water to percolate into the soil to filter out pollutants. As an added benefit, it should help with stormwater permit issues for Topsail High’s campus. 

“We need to reduce the build upon impervious area, and this will help us get that resolved,” McEwen said.

The Hampstead Bypass Project is slated to open in 2030 at a proposed interchange with U.S. 17 Wilmington Bypass and extend northwest into Pender County, past Sidbury Road. From there, the road will turn northeast and continue to a proposed interchange with N.C. 210 to extend northeast and behind the Topsail High campus.

The new bypass is proposed to address safety issues with the existing corridor, McEwen said.

“Passthrough traffic through Hampstead from Wilmington, will now be allowed to not have to go right down the existing 17 corridor; instead they can bypass Hampstead,” McEwen said. “This will reduce traffic volume and safety issues that exist. When accidents or other things interrupt traffic, it becomes a major issue of safety and general inconvenience.”

The new route will offer an alternate when accidents temporarily block U.S. 17 in Hampstead.

NCDOT and Pender County commissioners will host a groundbreaking ceremony early 2022 after awarding a construction contract in January for Segment B, which has a proposed deadline of late 2026.

NCDOT estimates roughly 60,000 vehicles per day will travel this bypass, based on 2040 traffic projections. Both segments of the bypass are being funded for construction as part of the State Transportation Improvement Program.

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