Saturday, July 20, 2024

NCDOT proposes new design for Military Cutoff, Eastwood overpass to begin 2026

The intersection of Military Cutoff and Eastwood Road will be converted to an overpass to allow for more traffic capacity and less delays. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON — A notoriously congested intersection could see reprieve with a fresh redesign that will save millions and reduce the impact to properties in the area.

READ MORE: Noticed the clear-cutting on Eastwood? New development and cut-thru road in the works

ALSO: $106M Military Cutoff Ext. to open by summer, connect to future Hampstead Bypass

Building an overpass at the Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road intersection has been on North Carolina Department of Transportation’s radar since 2014, with stakeholder and public meetings taking place through 2018.

After being put on hold from 2019 to 2021, due to NCDOT’s cash flow issues, right-of-way acquisitions finally began in June 2023.

“Because of the amount of impact, we went back and did some preliminary looks,” NCDOT Division 3 engineer Chad Kimes said last week.

During the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s monthly board meeting, Kimes presented an alternative design to garner feedback before proceeding.

The main difference is not converting Commonwealth Drive into a quadrant-style four-lane facility with a right in, right out. Now the road will remain as is, reducing construction. It also would have limited access to businesses in Progress Point, such as CVS and PT’s Grill, across the street from Commonwealth.

“We typically don’t come back for redesigns, but it’s big enough we felt it was important to get the board’s support,” Kimes said.

The WMPO board voted to approve the changes last Wednesday.

The updated configuration will save NCDOT an estimated $5.7 million. Kimes explained the agency won’t know the real savings until it finalizes property acquisition negotiations and puts the project out to bid.

Initially anticipated to cost $61.8 million — with $16.9 million set aside for rights-of-way acquisitions — the new estimate is $56.1 million, with $14.6 million for rights-of-way.

The original design showed the need to acquire 80 properties; the new one eliminates or reduces impacts to seven of those.

NCDOT did not answer which businesses will be impacted yet.

“Plans propose to acquire portions of business property, but it is too soon to confirm whether there will be any ‘total takes’ of businesses,” NCDOT spokesperson Lauren Haviland said. “Appraisals and discussions with property/business owners will be required prior to this confirmation.”

The new layout will be reliant on the completion of the Drysdale Drive extension. Construction started last September after NCDOT awarded a $7.2-million contract to Chatham Civil Contracting.

READ MORE: NCDOT plans August groundbreaking for Eastwood and Military Cutoff overpass project

A $3.84-million boost came from the state, due to the advocacy of Rep. David Rouzer in 2021. He used one of his 10 allocated earmarks to request money.

The Drysdale extension will create an alternative path for traffic traveling Eastwood and Military Cutoff.

The road is being built at a new location, passing through the future CenterPoint mixed-use development, also under construction. 

Due to the high traffic the development will bring — 300 apartment units, 200-room hotel and 220,000 square feet of mixed use space — work on the Drysdale Drive extension was necessary for CenterPoint to come to fruition. Haviland told PCD last fall, it would “alleviate some concerns.”

The new Drysdale connector is just one phase in the Military Cutoff and Eastwood Drive interchange upgrade. Drysdale Drive is expected to be completed summer 2024 and sets up an alternate route to divert drivers during construction of the overpass.

The signal at Military Cutoff and Eastwood will be removed and replaced with an Eastwood Road overpass crossing over Military Cutoff. Ramps placed near the bridge will accommodate turning traffic.

Once the entire project is completed, drivers will be re-routed.

For example, if headed east toward Wrightsville Beach from Eastwood, cars will need to travel through the new Drysdale Drive extension, then turn right on Military Cutoff. If traveling west from Wrightsville Beach toward Oleander, travelers will have to cross the intersection under the overpass, turn onto Drysdale, then make a right to head south.

One main change to the new design is cars traveling off Drysdale will be able to now make a left and right onto Eastwood. The previous design only allowed a right turn.

Initially, the construction would have also transformed Commonwealth Drive — near McDonald’s and a handful of office buildings — into four lanes from two. Now, Commonwealth Drive will remain as is, though a traffic signal will be added at the Military Cutoff Drive entrance.

Traffic signals will be installed at both ends of Drysdale Drive, as well as Military Cutoff and Allens Lane.

By upgrading the intersection, NCDOT hopes to add additional capacity to the roads. Traffic is intended to increase significantly by 2035. For Eastwood Road, average daily vehicles were 22,000 in 2015, anticipated to jump to 39,300 by 2035. Military Cutoff sees roughly 41,000 and is expected to carry 64,400 cars in the next 12 years.

The Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road intersection is currently evaluated at an “E” level service — meaning poor. According to the state, if no improvements were made by 2042, the area would be downgraded to an “F,” the lowest possible ranking.

Both roads are considered at “failing” levels of service and the overpass will improve intersections to acceptable levels, considered ratings A to C, with light delays ranging from 34 to 45 seconds.

“Dispersing traffic through various other intersections reduces impacts [to properties] and increases capacity because of a better signal system,” Kimes said.

Meanwhile, the Military Cutoff extension, extending the road north from Market Street to N.C. 140, is nearing completion. The $106-million project will add 4.15 miles and eventually connect to the completed Hampstead Bypass for a combined 17.5 miles.

Originally intended to open by fall 2022, various utility conflicts resulted in a 297-day delay. Supply chain disruptions furthered the impact; the extension should be open by late summer or early fall, NCDOT confirmed Monday.

Construction on the Military Cutoff and Eastwood Road overpass will begin by 2026.

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