Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Snow’s Cut Bridge replacement in NCDOT consideration, feasibility study nears completion

Snow’s Cut Bridge has been submitted for considertaion in the NCDOT’s STIP for 2026-2035. (Port City Daily/Peter Castagno)

CAROLINA BEACH — As residents and officials cope with ongoing deliberations to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, another major bridge in the region might be up for substitution in coming years.

READ MORE: Vote moves toll option forward to see if CFM Bridge replacement scores higher with NCDOT

In October 2023, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization submitted a request for the Snow’s Cut Bridge replacement to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The $149.1-million proposal was one of their submittals for consideration in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for 2026-2035. It will compete with other proposals for state funding; WMPO also submitted 21 highway projects, such as the Old Fayetteville Road Interchange in Leland.

“We have done our due diligence, we have coordinated with all our member jurisdictions, all of our modal partners and submitted projects,” WMPO spokesperson Vanessa Lacer said. “And the state is now in the process of scoring those projects based on their criteria.”

Snow’s Cut Bridge was built in 1964 and has an estimated 40 more years of life, according to NCDOT Communications Officer Lauren Haviland. Bridge longevity can shorten or lengthen due to traffic volume or regular maintenance. Haviland noted Snow’s Cut would need to be replaced before the end of its estimated life due to traffic volume, but said regular maintenance has kept the bridge safe.

NCDOT division 3 corridor development engineer Michelle Howes said officials will know by September if the Snow’s Cut replacement project is selected for funding; the draft STIP will be released in February 2025, while the finalized STIP will come out a year later.

Howes said if the Snow’s Cut replacement is chosen by state and regional stakeholders, in the “best case scenario,” construction could begin in 2028 at the earliest. 

Carolina Beach town manager Bruce Oakley told Port City Daily the town knew it would need to replace Snow’s Cut Bridge at some point. NCDOT brought the issue to the town’s attention in recent years and initiated a feasibility study in June 2023 to determine potential replacements.

The feasibility study was conducted over eight months and cost $71,000, paid by the NCDOT feasibility studies unit. The document has not been finished, but contractor Wetherill Engineering Inc. has completed design and cost estimates of four different alternatives for the project. 

The current bridge is 65-feet tall, with four lanes, with a 4-foot median. Its replacement would also have four lanes, divided by a 4-foot median and cause “heavy utility impacts in the area.” Haviland said NCDOT did not yet know what the utility impacts would entail. 

Four options for Snow’s Cut include:

  • Concept 1A – East Bridge over Snows Cut on U.S. 421. Total cost: $89.8 million 
  • Concept 1B – East Bridge over Snows Cut on U.S. 421 with a new service road. Total cost: $91.5 million
  • Concept 2A – West Bridge over Snows Cut on U.S. 421. Total cost: $106.2 million 
  • Concept 2B – West Bridge over Snows Cut on U.S. 421 with a new service road. Total cost: $106 million

Haviland said it has not been determined where exactly the east and west bridge alternatives would be and how far they would be from the current bridge. If the project is funded, NCDOT will consider human and environmental impacts to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of either option and determine specific locations.

If funded, each of the new locations would require the acquisition of additional right-of-way — referring to properties surrounding transportation projects deemed essential to build the bridge. 

Howes said NCDOT owns the bridge and the immediate right-of-way around it but would require more property to connect and shift traffic to the new structure to US 421. The new service roads in concepts 1B and 2B would provide new access to areas expected to lose entry due to bridge construction, but Haviland noted the road designs are subject to change.

The construction and utility costs for the bridge replacement options are largely similar, but the west bridge options would require over $10 million more due to right-of-way acquisitions. 

“The specific number of impacts are not determined; however, there is generally more residential housing on the west side of the current bridge,” Haviland said. “Therefore, it is expected that the western bridge option would likely have higher impacts and costs associated with right of way acquisition.”

Howes said the right-of-way process could begin in 2026 at the earliest; she noted construction usually begins about two years after.

One of council’s focuses with the bridge, according to Oakley, is including bike and pedestrian accessibility via multi-use pathways on any potential replacement. The WMPO’s submitted proposal has a 12-foot multi-use path in all four options.

Bridge multi-use paths were also discussed in a January email exchange between local officials and Wilmington resident Gaither Deitz, who expressed interest in creating new bike accommodations from Monkey Junction to Carolina Beach. 

Howes discussed adding bike and pedestrian lanes to the current Snow’s Cut structure with other NCDOT officials, but the age of the bridge would make it a “large undertaking.”

Oakley said NCDOT would reach out for public input on different potential routes and locations for the replacement bridge before a decision is made.

PCD reached out to council members regarding the bridge; only Mayor Lynn Barbee responded, noting it was too early for him to comment because he hadn’t yet seen the NCDOT proposal.

Oakley said there is currently no scheduled meeting for the town to discuss Snow’s Cut but believed it would occur at the next annual meeting, not yet on the calendar. 

NCDOT will fund the project if it scores as high prioritization. Unlike the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Howes said a toll is not currently being considered for Snow’s Cut. 

“I cannot say 100% that it would not [have one],” she said. “But we are not currently evaluating it to be using a toll.”

Should it pass muster, NCDOT would keep the old bridge open while building anew. It would then be dismantled after the new bridge is completed.

Howes did not know if Snow’s Cut construction could potentially occur at the same time as the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement because neither project is funded yet. Lacer said it’s possible the two projects could be selected on the STIP simultaneously.

“We’ll know a lot more when we get the scores back,” Lacer said. 

The criteria in the state’s prioritization process include safety, existing and future conditions, benefits the project is expected to provide, the project’s role within local priorities, and multi-modal features. Lacer noted funding needs are also scored in consideration of whether a project applies statewide — such as I-40 — or if it is only regional or local, such as Snow’s Cut Bridge.

Oakley said he believed the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and Wrightsville Beach bridge replacements — the latter of which is funded and will begin in 2028 — would take priority over Snow’s Cut.

“I think we’re probably five to 10 years away before any kind of work has started,” he said.

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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