Sunday, April 14, 2024

$2.1M roundabout coming to River Road, Independence, costs split among developers, city

The city and developers of Riverlights and The Proximity at Watermark are sharing the costs to install a roundabout at the River Road and Independence Road intersection. (Courtesy Michelle Clegg)

WILMINGTON — The grassroots efforts of a local community have won a battle for traffic improvements along a congested roadway.

READ MORE: Independence Blvd. improvements could be coming down the pipe earlier than expected

ALSO: Mayor considers potential transportation bond following Riverlights residents’ plea for improvements

The Wilmington City Council approved Tuesday an ordinance and accompanying resolution to enter into an agreement with NNP IV-Cape Fear LLC — developers of Riverlights — and Cape Fear Commercial, developers behind The Proximity at Watermark, to install a roundabout at Independence Boulevard and River Road.

The three entities have shared interest in seeing traffic improvements come to the area, and residents living in Riverlights and Del Webb have expressed concerns for nearly a year over the safety issues presented at the intersection.

The unanimous vote by council was met with audience applause Tuesday.

“Most of us would have preferred the traffic light but will accept the roundabout to control traffic at the intersection,” Sharon Valentine, Del Webb resident, told Port City Daily.

Valentine, part of Del Webb Local Issues — an organization formed due to neighborhood concerns — is one of many founding members collaborating to seek a solution.

The group has spoken at multiple city council meetings — April 18 and June 6 — encouraging the city to move up the timeline for road improvements. They also started a petition with more than 1,000 signatures and have been consulted by the city prior to it making the decision.

“City departments must be responsible for responding with realistic recommendations to the huge growth that is spawning overdevelopment,” Valentine said.

Based on three traffic engineering studies — done by Riverlights, The Proximity and most recently the city — a roundabout was the preferred option over a traffic signal, despite residents’ questioning the choice.

A traffic signal would have led to the intersection functioning at a service level D (on a scale from A to F, with F being the worst) by 2045, city director of engineering David Cowell told council Tuesday. The intersection of Independence and River Road currently averages more than 10,500 vehicles daily.

“This will provide significant safety enhancements, with lower speeds and elimination of T-bone crashes,” he said. “This will also be a meaningful first step toward much needed relief from traffic congestion.”

City engineer Denise Freund also explained to council in September a roundabout keeps vehicles moving, as opposed to idling at a stoplight, reducing air pollution within the city.

Along with the single-lane roundabout, the city wants to continue the sidewalk, curb and gutter 0.2 miles along Independence Boulevard between River Road and River Front Place. The work will be done simultaneously with the roundabout installation and overseen by Cape Fear Commercial.

Cape Fear Commercial partner Mike Brown said everyone will be involved in the design and construction process along the way.

“One party had to be the project manager,” Brown told Port City Daily Tuesday. “So we’ll serve that role, but it’s a team effort.”

It’s estimated to be $2.1 million, to include design, surveying and other “soft costs.”

The expense will be shared, with the city chipping in 100% of the pedestrian connection, up to $737,800 and 30% of the estimated cost for the roundabout, equaling $630,100 plus $150,000 in contingency.

The city’s $1.5 million is coming from the $2.75 million developer contribution received under a 2009 agreement with Riverlights. The money was paid in lieu of transportation improvements requested by Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and NCDOT.

NNP IV-Cape Fear LLC will pay 56% of the roundabout costs, with a maximum of $1.18 million and Cape Fear Commercial is contributing 14%, up to $294,100.

The distribution of funds is based on the traffic each company’s development is anticipated to generate. The Proximity at Watermark is planned for 248 units and is estimated to generate 98 morning peak hour trips and 97 evening peak trips.

Riverlights, at full buildout, will have 3,350 units of varying types, along with commercial space.

Brown said it’s a realistic, conservative budget and he doesn’t foresee overage; however, all three parties would work together to fund unexpected costs.

Mayor Bill Saffo implied at Tuesday’s meeting the split was fair, since Riverlights had agreed to the improvements years ago and Cape Fear Commercial wasn’t necessarily on the hook for contributing. But agreeing to pay a share allows the work to be accelerated to the benefit of both developments.

Based on Riverlights agreement with the city, amended in November 2020, it wasn’t committed to making any upgrades to the intersection until the final commercial component was built out, the 2,290th resident moved in or by 2030 — whichever came first.

Brown anticipates the agreement between the three entities to be completed within a week. A conceptual design has been completed but a final engineering plan will be done by Kimley Horn within five to six months.

The roundabout will be planned in a way that will accommodate the future widening of Independence Boulevard. While only one lane will be constructed at this time, the roundabout’s diameter and layout will ensure it can be easily extended to two lanes when Independence Boulevard is widened to four lanes within the next decade.

The city’s technical review committee also has to weigh in on the design to avoid any issues such as safety, water and sewer, traffic engineering to ensure it’s up to city code.

“All parties will have a seat at the table for design,” Brown said. “Then we’ll bid it out and review the bids together.”

He’s hoping construction will take less than six months.

“The goal is to get it done in 12 months [from today], but it could be up to 15 months,” Brown said.

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