PENDER COUNTY — In response to major flooding along I-40 after Hurricane Florence — a major contributor to the Cape Fear region’s logistical isolation from the rest of the state — plans are underway to elevate hard-hit sections of the interstate within Pender County to prevent future floodwaters from overtopping the roadway again.
Last week county officials met with Secretary James Trogdon of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to discuss options for three different sections of the interstate, according to a recent Pender County update.
“The areas near both the New Hanover and Duplin County lines are being raised and the two pipes underneath the interstate and the NC 53 interchange will be replaced with a 300-foot bridge,” Pender County Assistant Manager Chad McEwen wrote in the update. “It is anticipated that this work will be complete within three years.”
“This is a great step in the resiliency of Pender County and the whole area,” McEwen said on Monday. “It’s of major regional importance.”
As the largest corridor for southeastern North Carolina, McEwen said the elevation projects reflect the necessity of keeping I-40 open for emergency and recovery vehicles during future disasters.
“We’re certainly impressed by the DOT’s timeline of getting [these projects] in place,” McEwen said.
According to NCDOT division engineer Robert Vause, the projects’ feasibility studies and potential time frames are now being evaluated by the department. He could not yet provide any information on estimated costs or project designs.
“It’s a major corridor in providing access down here to the southeastern part of the state,” Vause said. “It’s certainly a vital link, and we want to look at it and see what options may be available.”
NCDOT spokesperson Steve Abbott emphasized that approval and funding for the projects have not been finalized, adding that any ideas discussed would have to gain approval through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
STIP is the department’s 10-year plan that identifies funding and scheduling of transportation projects throughout the state.
“After the storm impacts along I-40, among other highways, we are looking at many ideas on how to minimize the impact of floodwater on an essential route such as I-40 and similar highways,” Abbott said. “Raising the roadway in various locations and building potential bridges are just some of the ideas that would be considered.”
Abbott did not clarify any specific plans discussed during the meeting between Secretary Trogdon and county officials, and emphasized any ideas were “very early in [their] process.”
“Ideas about I-40 could be considered for funding in the 2022-2031 plan, which would be finalized in 2021,” Abbott said.
Once an idea receives approval and necessary funding, according to Abbott, the NCDOT would then need to conduct impact analyses and determine possible right-of-ways.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com