Monday, July 15, 2024

River crossing options topic of Monday workshop

Months of discussion and years of debate over how to improve transportation across the Cape Fear River will culminate Monday, Nov. 26, when officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation and the local transportation advisory committee will meet for a much-anticipated workshop.

Recent weekend closures of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge have added to arguments for an additional access across the Cape Fear River. File photo by Ben Brown.

The purpose of the workshop, which will be held in chambers at Wilmington City Hall starting at 9 a.m., is for DOT to provide information on alternatives considered for improving transportation between New Hanover and Brunswick counties, said Mike Kozlosky, executive director of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The purpose is to provide more detailed information to the transportation advisory committee,” Kozlosky said, referring to the regional body that includes representation from county and local governments throughout the MPO’s three-county area.

At the committee’s meeting in August, DOT’s chief of staff presented an overview of options for constructing a new or additional crossing over the Cape Fear River. Kozlosky said those options include a “new location facility” and upgrades to existing facilities, such as the heavily trafficked U.S. 17 and 421 corridors, to improve general safety and mobility in the region.

An environmental report is needed, Kozlosky said, to determine how much additional capacity either option would provide. But before that report can get underway, Kozlosky said DOT officials want to hear the wishes of the transportation committee, which has debated the type and location of a new river crossing in recent years.

Just a couple years ago, committee members remained at odds over the Cape Fear Skyway, a high-rise bridge and highway project proposed to connect Independence Boulevard in New Hanover County with the under-construction Interstate 140 in northeastern Brunswick County. Concerns over costs and tolls to pay for the project resulted in diminishing political support, but committee members have said an additional crossing is needed nonetheless.

Another option could see a second bridge built alongside the aging Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, or an all-out replacement of that bridge that serves as the main connection between the two counties. Recent weekend closures have demonstrated the impact of the bridge on regional transportation, as the only other river crossing in the vicinity is the Isabel Holmes Bridge just up the river.

Farther upriver, a third bridge is to come with the completion of Interstate 140—the Wilmington Bypass. Construction on the third and final leg of the bypass, which would cross the river west of its existing interchange with U.S. 421, is scheduled to start in September 2013, though completion of the project—estimated to cost $142 million—would be a number of years off.

Construction is wrapping up on the second leg of the bypass, from U.S. 17 to U.S. 74-76 west of Leland. That project is scheduled for completion by July.

Whatever option is taken to improve transportation between the two counties, and to address capacity concerns for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Kozlosky said statistics to be presented at Monday’s workshop account for the bridge that would come with completion of the Wilmington Bypass.

Even with the bypass completed, Kozlosky said, “There will still be a need for additional capacity.”

Jonathan Spiers can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com.

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