WILMINGTON — The city launched a plan several years ago to upgrade streets on a scenic corridor of downtown, which has now escalated into a larger project.
The City of Wilmington has been planning to resurface and repair the sidewalks along Fifth Avenue from Market Street to Greenfield Street for several years. Cape Fear Public Utility Authority had plans to replace aging infrastructure in the same area, and the two entities are now tying their projects into one to reduce unnecessary delays and disruptions.
READ MORE: $5M in paving planned for city roads in 2023
The city will pay $4.6 million for its portion of the project, which is fully funded from the capital maintenance budget. CFPUA spokesperson Cammie Bellamy said since the project has not gone out to bid, the entity cannot provide estimated costs.
Streets are measured by city staff regularly to determine upcoming needs. The pavement condition index along Fifth Avenue ranges from 19 to 49, depending on the segment. On a 100 scale, with 100 being the best, some of these areas are considered failing, according to city director of public services Dave Mayes.
In total, the city plans to resurface 6.5 lane miles, 15 blocks, milling asphalt down 2 to 3 inches in some places. Right now, the roadway has two lanes each going north and south, with on-street parking flanking both sides.
When completed, Fifth Avenue will go from four lanes to two, one northbound lane and one southbound lane. On-street parking will remain and a bike lane will be added to both sides.
At the council’s agenda briefing Monday, Mayor Bill Saffo asked if the bike lane would be painted in a way that makes it stand out.
“I can have that discussion with the traffic engineer,” Mayes said. “But it’s not just your standard 3-foot lane. It’s 6 feet; it’s got some width to it.”
Also, the crosswalks at Market, Dawson, Wooster and Castle streets will be updated, and additional crosswalks will be constructed at Greenfield, Marstellar and Ann streets.
Crews will repair 2,230 feet of sidewalk and add 2,100 feet of new walkway. Eleven more ADA accessible sidewalk ramps will be added to the 55 existing that need repair and upgrades to current standards.
In order to complete the work, about 51 Darlington Oaks planted in the medians need to be removed.
“Any live oak trees in the median or alongside the road will be preserved, and the city has gone to great lengths to ensure that any work performed around live oak trees takes steps to minimize any impact to the root bases of those trees,” city spokesperson Jerod Patterson told Port City Daily.
Forty Darlington Oaks in the center median are virtually at the end of their lifespan, he added, with a large number decaying or diseased. These will be removed within the next month or two, and the city is working with a landscape architect and the community to develop a plan to revegetate those areas.
“What we see, in that more holistic view, is now the opportunity to transform this section of Fifth Avenue into a linear parkway that connects historic downtown to Greenfield Lake,” Patterson told council at its Monday agenda briefing.
The city has engaged the community in the process to understand what they want to see in the area moving forward. More than 100 members attended a public meeting March 29, which included representatives from the city, CFPUA and Duke Energy.
Top preferences based on feedback were to include well-maintained vegetation, specifically using native plants and small flowering trees. The public also wants to preserve historic features of the roadway.
“The elephant in the room is the overhead power lines,” Patterson said.
A lot of concern was raised that the powerlines restrict tree height and impact the overall appearance of the street.
Patterson said staff identified three options: do nothing with the power lines and continue the work as planned; elevate the power lines by 15 feet, or bury the power lines.
To elevate would cost $800,000. But the height increase doesn’t address lower lines for utilities, such as ATT and Spectrum; that would require additional coordination and funding.
To bury the power lines is an $8-million expense and would add one to two years to the project timeline.
Cost-sharing options have not yet been discussed with Duke Energy, Patterson confirmed.
Patterson suggested to council “staying the course” with the project as planned but looking into burying the lines in the future. It could be incorporated into the Greater Downtown Plan — to identify a vision for growth. Staff will begin strategizing for the plan July 1.
There’s also a possibility of incorporating the funding into a prospective 2024-2026 transportation bond, according to Patterson.
If the city waited a few years down the road to do the power line work, the plantings could be relocated and the asphalt will have had a few years of its usable life underway, as opposed to breaking ground on brand new pavement quickly, he explained.
City council member Clifford Barnett asked if the power lines were considered when the project was first brainstormed.
“The project from the city’s side began as a street resurfacing and grew when CFPUA was planning the full replacement of its water and sewer lines and the significant number of conflicts that would create,” Patterson said. “Put all that together and we recognized that the scope we were looking at had really grown far beyond a simple street resurfacing. That’s why the power lines never entered the equation.”
Council member Charlie Rivenbark suggested re-locating the power lines one street over.
“When Market Street was reconfigured in the ‘90s, they had the same issues with the trees,” he said. “They decided to move the lines to Dock Street and it was cheaper. At least ask about that.”
No decision was made on the overhead lines. Patterson said staff will continue looking into the feasibility of altering those lines and bring more information to council at a future date.
The project will kick off in the next month or two with the tree removal. Thereafter, CFPUA will work in phases to replace underground infrastructure. The utility company will replace two existing 70-year-old 6-inch and 8-inch gravity sewer mains along Fifth Avenue with one 8-inch main. The water mains are also at the end of their useful life, roughly 70 years old, and will be replaced. Individual properties along the street will receive upgraded piping.
CFPUA is expected to begin construction late summer, early fall, according to spokesperson Cammie Bellamy, depending on supply availability.
When the utility company finishes one section and moves onto another, the city will come behind and do the necessary sidewalk and street work. Lastly, the new landscaping will be added once the construction is complete.
“The city recognizes this is a major project and is working to minimize impacts to residents to the greatest extent possible during construction, which includes notifying the community in advance of any work taking place,” Patterson told PCD.
During construction, traffic will continue to flow with access to properties located along Fifth Avenue.
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