Saturday, April 20, 2024

Incomplete work on Military Cutoff Ext. leads to frustrations, construction to wrap by 2024

As part of the Military Cutoff Extension, the left-turning lane off Market Street at the Boats Unlimited NC — created in the short-term to connect to Military Cutoff while the extension was under construction — has been closed and will not reopen to southbound traffic, according to NCDOT. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON — While the highly anticipated Military Cutoff Extension finally opened, it hasn’t come without a few hiccups and learning curves.

READ MORE: After delays, price increases, Military Cutoff Extension to open Thursday

The 4-mile roadway connecting Market Street to N.C. 140 had its first vehicles roll through a week ago with a goal of easing congestion. However, construction is not 100% complete.

“It is not uncommon to open a roadway just as soon as it is safe to do so prior to some minor punch list items that still need to be completed,” North Carolina Department of Transportation spokesperson Andrew Barksdale said.

Crews are still active installing medians, curbs and concrete islands, completing traffic signal work, widening roadways and finishing up paving and lane marking.

NCDOT held a ribbon cutting Sept. 28 and resident Dale Gurganus-McCullough reached out to Port City Daily complaining the traffic was so backed up, it took him 45 minutes to travel from Porters Neck to turn left onto Military Cutoff. He said he hoped the traffic pattern would not be “the new normal.”

“The extension has been a long-awaited project for the community,” Barksdale answered when asked why NCDOT cut the ribbon before the project was completed. 

Work has been ongoing for the last five years and has increased by 11% in cost since first bid out to Balfour Construction in 2017. The $106-million project — which runs from the intersection of Market Street and Military Cutoff to an interchange with I-140 — will connect to the Hampstead Bypass once complete, resulting in a 17.5-mile corridor between New Hanover and Pender counties.

“We were committed to opening the roadway as soon as possible, so commuters could begin reaping the benefits of the new route,” Barksdale said. “Already, the Porters Neck area is benefiting from the extension, so there is less congestion and backups.”

Its opening has provided some relief from heavy traffic on Market Street, according to Barksdale. Though nearby residents have issued concerns to county commissioners.

One homeowner said her property backs up to the new road and she hears frequent speeding and racing in the 45 mile-per-hour zone. She also echoed Gurganus-McCullough’s concerns: Traffic seems to have worsened on Market Street from Gordon Road to Porters Neck — “stop and go… bumper to bumper,” she detailed in an email to the county.

Barksdale explained with any major directional change on roadways, drivers will need to adapt.

“This current, temporary traffic pattern is for the safety of our crews and our contractors,” he said. 

Currently, motorists traveling south on Market Street have to bear right to take the new exit located at NC-417, a few hundred feet before Gordon Road; it loops around to travel south on Military Cutoff. Yet, some drivers continue to turn left on Gordon, which NCDOT said is “less efficient.” More so, it clogs the left turn lane which backs up Market Street traffic.

Map of the extension. (Courtesy NCDOT)

During construction, a temporary left-turning lane was constructed from Market Street at the Boats Unlimited NC for drivers to connect to Military Cutoff. It has been closed and will not reopen to southbound traffic, Barksdale confirmed, and a grassy median will be constructed to prevent it. 

Eventually, that route, called “Ramp D,” will be used for motorists coming north from Military Cutoff onto Market Street, going toward Porters Neck. It will be right in and right out, though NCDOT is still configuring its final traffic pattern, Barksdale said. It will be a free-flowing lane, meaning no lights or stop signs.

Temporary electronic signs are set up to help drivers map the changes. Some have already complained about lack of signage, in turn leading to out-of-the-way travel time. Barksdale noted New Hanover County will be installing street name signs at the intersections in the coming months. NCDOT will monitor response to the current signage and modify as needed.

Once the extension project is finished, the bypass will consist of two lanes of traffic in each direction, with a median running its entire length. However, from just north of Market to just south of N.C. 140, there will be three lanes each way. An 8-foot multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians runs along the entirety of the extension as well. 

All work still underway will be completed by early 2024, according to officials.

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