Sunday, October 2, 2022

City awarded $2 million for rail realignment, now will ask NCDOT to help fund required match

• The city was awarded up to $2 million for the project, but this money requires a $500,000 local or state match • City leaders will request the money from the NCDOT on Tuesday • The project is ambitious and could cost up to $1 billion

Wilmington’s rail realignment plan would take miles of freight rail in the city and turn it into a light rail public transit system. The project would require major infrastructure investments, including a new rail bridge over the Cape Fear, and could cost upward of $1 billion. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
Wilmington’s rail realignment plan would take miles of freight rail in the city and turn it into a light-rail public transit system. The project would require major infrastructure investments, including a new rail bridge over the Cape Fear, and could cost upward of $1 billion. (Port City Daily photo/File)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s ambitious $1 billion rail realignment program was awarded a small portion of its hefty price tag in June — up to $2 million from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program.

Take an in-depth look at rail realignment: This ambitious railway plan could reshape Wilmington. It could also cost a billion dollars

But in order to actually get that money, the city has to match $500,000 in costs either through state or local funding — they are hoping for the former.

On Tuesday, City Council will vote to approve a resolution asking the North Carolina Department of Transportation to award the city the $500,000.

The project has been in the works for several years and started off as a Wilmington idea to reroute the current rail system and build a new system and utilize the existing tracks as a public transit system.

Wilmington rail-realignment project moves forward with county, federal, and CSX support

“The Rail Realignment project would create a replacement freight rail route from Navassa into the Port of Wilmington and would allow for the acquisition and repurposing of the existing freight rail right-of-way for alternative transportation uses such as a mass transit system or a greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists,” according to City Manager Sterling Cheatham’s request to City Council.

Cheatham claims that the project will bring significant benefits to the city by, Enhancing public safety; Providing opportunities for economic development; Improving quality of life; Reducing costs on planned roadway improvements.

Cheatham explains just how the project affects these bullet points in documents provided to the council.

  • Public Safety – The current route used for freight rail conflicts with over 30 at-grade roadway crossings throughout the Wilmington. All proposed realignment routes would eliminate the vast majority of these at-grade crossings. FRA statistics show that between 2010 and 2018, highway-rail impact accounted for 80% of railroad-related fatalities and 45% of injuries. The abundance of at-grade crossings also creates the potential for trains to inhibit emergency service response time.
  • Economic Development – The Rail Realignment project presents a unique opportunity to reimagine zoning and land use for the existing railroad right-of-way and its adjacent properties, while also preserving the freight rail access that brings known economic advantages to the region. Studies have demonstrated that proximity to public transit and parks enjoy increased property values versus their counterparts while other studies have shown that increased freight rail activity depresses property values nearby those operations. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that for every $1 invested in public transportation approximately $4 in economic returns are generated.
  • Quality of Life – By mitigating both vehicular traffic congestion and noise pollution caused by train horns, the Rail Realignment project will bring about significant positive impacts to the quality of life. The Feasibility Study for the Realignment project demonstrated $30 million in savings associated with improving vehicular traffic fluidity. Moreover, by eliminating at-grade rail crossings, the project will relieve a material portion of Wilmington’s population from the raucous sound of a train horn.
  • Cost Reduction – The Rail Realignment project offers opportunities to other planned transportation projects for significant cost savings. For example, the over-grade railroad crossings currently required for the Independence Boulevard Extension project would not be required should the Realignment project be brought to fruition, saving an estimated $75 million.

 

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