Wednesday, April 17, 2024

5 rail crossings to permanently close as part of $9.8M Wilmington beltline project

CSX, NCDOT and the City of Wilmington are on the brink of an agreement to close and improve some rail crossings across the city. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — A project in the works will change the ways rail travels in Wilmington, including closing some crossings and making improvements to new ones.

READ MORE: Wilmington to Raleigh rail corridor awarded $500K as first steps of future project

The changes will be made to the existing 13-mile CSX rail line, commonly referred to as the “beltline”; it’s the only active track through the city. 

The beltline is part of a larger rail realignment project through the Federal Railroad Administration. It proposes to reroute all existing freight traffic (both local and through traffic) from the beltline to a new rail connection, to be constructed between Davis Yard in Navassa and the Port of Wilmington. The entire project has not yet been funded. 

Port City Daily obtained a draft agreement between the North Carolina Department of Transportation, CSX and the City of Wilmington outlining the scope of work affecting 32 crossings citywide. 

“The Department has plans to eliminate redundant and/or unsafe at grade highway/rail crossings on a statewide basis as part of a comprehensive effort to improve and promote safer and more efficient rail and highway operations along heavily used railroad corridors,” the agreement reads. 

Both the City of Wilmington and NCDOT have previously refused to provide additional information on the project with PCD. In response to an interview request, city spokesperson Lauren Edwards said there is no point of contact at the city and suggested the media outlet reach out to NCDOT.

NCDOT reported back the department had no construction agreements finalized, so it did not have anything definitive to share at this time.

The department did provide more information related to the draft agreement from PCD’s public records request, including the current cost — $9.8 million. The department is in the final stages of the plan development, which means pricing could be updated upon finalization. 

NCDOT was awarded a federal grant to cover $4.41 million of the project; NCDOT will cover 85% of the remaining cost and CSX will finance 15%. The City of Wilmington faces no upfront costs, though will be responsible for ongoing maintenance. Once approved, the project will take around one year to complete. 

The agreement has not been ratified by all parties; as of Thursday, NCDOT has not received any feedback from the City of Wilmington. 

Internal emails obtained by PCD illuminate some of the hang-ups, according to assistant city attorney Melissa Huffman.   

“I have concerns about the blanket right of entry, timing of when crossing work can be performed, the number of crossings that may be worked on at any one time,” Huffman wrote in a Feb. 19 email to city paralegal Alyce Maurer. 

The draft agreement says the city must grant right-of-entry to NCDOT and CSX to municipal right-of-way or property to complete work. It does not, however, lay out a crossing work schedule.

Huffman said she planned to consolidate comments in the next few weeks to provide to NCDOT. The draft document provided to PCD includes comments and edits from CSX and NCDOT staff, but no one from the City of Wilmington.

The project includes the permanent closure and removal of the at-grade crossings at Clay Street, Ninth Street, Hooper Street, Martin Street between Hooper and Fifth streets, and Martin Street at Sixth Streets. This includes the removal timbers, approaches, debris, signage warning/protective devices, whistle posts, pavement markings, stop bars and signals. 

To mitigate those crossing closures, the project also includes the construction of several crossing improvements, including a Kidder Street Extension from Ninth to Tenth streets, a connector between Clay and Henry streets, a turnaround for Hooper Street on the north side of the tracks, and roadway improvements along Martin Street between Fourth and Seventh streets. 

Improvements will also be made to 23 other crossings: 

  • Fourth Street
  • Fifth Street
  • Sixth Street
  • Seventh Street
  • Eighth Street 
  • 10th Street
  • 12th Steet 
  • 13th Street
  • Marstellar Street
  • 16th Street
  • Oleander Drive 
  • Wrightsville Avenue
  • Colonial Drive
  • Forest Hills Drive 
  • Mercer Avenue
  • Covil Avenue 
  • Market Street 
  • Henry Street
  • Princess Place Drive
  • 30th Street 
  • 23rd Street
  • King Street
  • Cedar Hill Road 

NCDOT will be responsible for the construction of all crossing improvements, acquisition of right-of-way, and relocation of utilities. 

“Utilities are affected and will be adjusted accordingly,” NCDOT spokesperson Jamie Kritzer wrote in an email to PCD. “Those costs are not included in the project cost above and are a separate cost yet to be determined and are anticipated to be minimal.” 

CSX will be responsible for removal of active warning devices and asphalt within 10 feet of the tracks, along with installation of new crossing surfaces and new warning devices. 

Like all its municipal roadways, the roads that lose rail crossings will be the responsibility of the City of Wilmington to maintain. Per the agreement, the city will also cover 50% of CSX’s costs of maintenance on the highway rail crossing warning devices installed as part of the project.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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