Monday, June 24, 2024

NCDOT ranks CF Memorial Bridge in top 10 for funding, Hampstead signaling top-earner

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge ranked ninth in the state among NCDOT-funded projects. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON —  The dueling Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement projects have been scored by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, spelling out how much funding the state agency is willing to put toward the projects. 

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

As expected, the option to replace the structure with a tolled bridge ranked higher than the same project without a toll — ninth among NCDOT’s funded statewide projects. With this placement, the NCDOT is dedicating $85 million to the project, estimated at $440 million.

The non-tolled bridge option, submitted in previous years but has never scored high enough for funding, ranked 211. Again, it remains unfunded. 

The scores were presented at the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting Wednesday. No vote on the matter was taken. 

Made up of Cape Fear elected officials, the WMPO is charged with distributing state and federal funds to transportation projects in the Wilmington metro area and was the deciding agency in submitting a tolled replacement option alongside a non-toll option in January. 

The move was a controversial one, with five out of 13 of the board members voting against a tolled option. A toll also doesn’t sit well with the locals who argue it would be a burden on commuters and claim the costs of upgrading the bridge should fall on the entire state, as all of North Carolina benefits from the port-adjacent structure.

Proponents of submitting a tolled option noted it would allow the project to move forward and give the NCDOT and WMPO more time to garner grants and alternative funding models, which could bring the overall cost of the bridge down and render a toll unnecessary.   

“We always said we got to show the skin in the game,” NCDOT representative Landon Zimmer said at the meeting. “We’ve now shown the federal infrastructure act ‘Hey, this state, we mean business.’” 

Zimmer was a leading proponent of submitting a tolled option, telling the WMPO that doing so would push the project to NCDOT’s top spot in prioritization. 

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge was not the only project to nab statewide funding, nor the top scorer among the 15 submitted WMPO projects. Also planned is a fiber update to the signals and constructing reduced conflict intersections along U.S. 17 through Hampstead from Washington Acres Road to Vista Lane. 

“I yelled when I saw Hampstead,” retiring NCDOT Division 3 Director Chad Kimes said at the meeting.

The project is estimated to cost $58.6 million and will take place after Hampstead Bypass is complete.

“While it is not included as part of the bypass project, it is anticipated to also make improvements to the Hampstead corridor,” NCDOT spokesperson Lauren Haviland said.

Overall, the state had $1.033 billion to dedicate to statewide projects; the WMPO, along with the Capital Area MPO, tied for second in most projects funded with two each, while the Charlotte Regional had the most funded with 7. 

Now the NCDOT will move on to prioritization of regional and divisional projects, which pull from different pots of money. 

As for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge Project, there is still a gap in funding the WMPO and NCDOT will need to solve despite receiving state funding. Kimes and the state have applied for federal grants; Kimes said the agency has applied for three, up one from the last time NCDOT announced an application earlier this year. 

If the agency gets the grants, there will still be $120 million that must come from somewhere else, i.e. a toll. Kimes said the NCDOT will continue to focus on grant funding in the next two years, the timeframe the WMPO has to make a decision on how to proceed with funding the replacement.

[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated the Hampstead Bypass was the top-earner in the state’s funding prioritization, based on conversation between WMPO members at the meeting. NCDOT reached out to PCD Thursday morning to correct confusion; intersection improvements to U.S. 17 in Hampstead was the top-earner.]


Tips or comments? Email journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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