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Thursday, May 23, 2024

10 years later, multi-use paths between UNCW, WB to break ground

A decade in the making, multi-use paths along Hinton Ave, Hooker Road and Greenville Avenue will be constructed starting last this year. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON — “I’m tired of it,” council member Charlie Rivenbark said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

READ MORE: Revival of Cape Fear Crossing? One of 60 local projects considered for state funding

He was speaking about a pedestrian improvement project, more than a decade in the works but has not yet broken ground. After this week’s meeting, construction on the three-part project — involving 8-foot-wide multi-use paths and intersection improvements between UNCW and Wrightsville Beach — finally has an end in sight.

Wilmington city council members unanimously approved WMPO applying for an additional $1.2 million grant Tuesday. The request is $960,000 in federal funds, with the city agreeing to a 20% local match, $240,000. 

In total, the city estimated construction to be around $5.6 million; $4.5 million has been doled out for the project by the WMPO in the last 10 years.

The 3,800-foot multi-use path will be installed on Hooker Road from Wrightsville Avenue to Mallard Drive; a 2,000-foot multi-use path will run along Hinton Avenue connecting the River to the Sea Bikeway at Park Avenue to Greenville Avenue. Plus, new sidewalks and bike lanes will be constructed on both sides of the road at the Greenville and Wrightsville avenues intersection.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Bill Saffo questioned the urgency of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization seeing through the project, pointing to delays in construction plans. He also said as time has elapsed, inconsistent communication with the community led to an ongoing neighborhood disconnect.

“Have we learned any lessons from this particular project that should have finished years ago?” Saffo asked city staff. “We have lost a lot of connectivity in this community, and with new residents arriving, traffic will not get any easier.”

Pushback from the city and residents, along with redesigns have extended the project’s timeline.

To date, the city has spent more than $800,000 — $288,000 from grant funds and $540,000 invested by the city — toward design, property acquisition, public outreach and administrative costs. 

Initially approved in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the WMPO began a project redesign in 2016. Staff found inconsistencies in the original plan with the city’s utility conflicts, trees, and stormwater management. 

“It was determined that the design would simply not be cost effective due to the significant utility relocation and stormwater improvement needs,” city spokesperson Dylan Lee told Port City Daily last year. “Therefore, the alignment of the paths was modified for better constructability and cost efficiencies.

The multi-use paths will be constructed behind the curb and gutter on Hooker and Hinton roads to limit the impact to trees and private property, according to Lee. The design also allows the paths and sidewalks to be constructed along the edge of the pavement.

The additional funding approved Tuesday covers unanticipated property acquisition costs, due to inflation, Dylan said. He would not disclose the price involved.

Though he noted the amount of property needed, totaling over 51,000 square feet — along Hooker Road, Hinton Avenue, and Wrightsville/Greenville Avenue — will include only 2% of personal property acquisition.

“Most of the construction will be done within the public right-of-way,” Lee said. “There are no full properties being acquired.”

The city has so far acquired 53% of the land. Twenty-two parcels of the 49 total are still undergoing negotiations.

One is more than 20,000 square feet, for permanent utility easements to relocate utility poles; Duke Energy requires a 15-foot buffer for future maintenance. More than 17,000 square feet in temporary construction easements will reshape driveways to connect with the edge of the multi-use paths. Permanent drainage easements will allow for additional inlets to prevent the accumulation of water.

The new design puts the walking path on the northern side of Hooker Road, which resident Peggy Baer is not a fan of.

“Why would you build a cross city trail along Hooker Road,” she wrote in an email to city council this month, “especially on the side where you have to cut down very mature trees.”

According to Lee, the current design minimizes environmental impacts with a reduced width, the use of pervious pavement where needed to protect trees, and a small retaining wall to protect the wetlands along Hooker Road.

Baer advocated for a bike lane only along the street, though the city said the road is too narrow to just add bike lanes. Baer is not the only resident to express issues with the project, in terms of timing and safety of neighbors.

According to internal emails obtained by Port City Daily, John Marchisin, an avid cyclist and resident of Hooker Road, expressed his concerns in emails to Saffo and council members regarding the path’s impact on community safety.

“There is a visibility issue on Hooker Road in seeing cyclists and pedestrians, and I am concerned that the path will include a blind zone that puts my family and others at legal and financial risk,” Marchisin wrote. “I am fortunate that my house is set back with clearance to the MUP, but my neighbors path will be within a few feet from their front porch.” 

Criticism on the project has not just come from local residents. Rivenbark expressed his concerns with funding a project that he said does not spark positive interest within the community.

“I just hate to have the money, force me to make a decision that those people out there hate,” Rivenbark said at a council meeting on Tuesday?. “I think we’re trying to do a nice thing for the community that’s been going on way too long.”

He said it makes the council look like the “bad guys.”

In response, Saffo touted the value of the multi-use paths, stating the trail could be used “dramatically” on Eastwood Road by beachgoers headed to Wrightsville via bike.

Matt Hypes, construction project manager for Wilmington, revealed the timeline for the project, with property acquisition negotiations still taking place this month. 

The city plans to advertise the bid work by September, awarding a construction contract by February 2024. All three components of the project are intended to take nine months to build, with an estimated deadline of October 2024.

Once finished, the project should mirror other city-owned sidewalks and multi-use paths to accommodate pedestrians and bike lanes.

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