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Thursday, May 30, 2024

NCDOT funding impacts for Wilmington region: Kerr interchange delayed, Gordon Road widening expedited

Earlier this month it was announced the NCDOT was dangerously close to the state-mandated minimum cash balance, how exactly will that impact our region? As it turns out, pretty significantly.

The bypass at Kerr Avenue and MLK Avenue has been delayed for three years (Port City Daily/File)
The bypass at Kerr Avenue and MLK Avenue has been delayed for three years, but other projects will be sped up. (Port City Daily/File)

Editor’s note: This is part two in a two-part story, part one looked at some of the reasons for NCDOT’s financial trouble.

WILMINGTON — After making the announcement that the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) was dangerously close to reaching the state-mandated bare minimum of funds (also known as the ‘cash floor’), questions have lingered regarding the actual impact to local area projects.

Related: Map Act, natural disasters, and uncertain revenues: Why NCDOT is scraping the bottom of its cash reserves barrel

On Monday, NCDOT Deputy Division Engineer Chad Kimes offered Wilmington City Council a breakdown of the impacts we can expect to see in the Cape Fear Region.

Thanks to lawsuits stemming from the Map Act, natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, and the underestimation of project costs, the NCDOT has struggled with its account balances.

According to Kimes, storm damages have cost the state $222 million per year for the last three years. That is compared to the roughly $66.8 million per year from 2004-2016, reimbursements have also been slow from the federal government. Lawsuits stemming from the Map Act, which previously allowed the state to essentially freeze development on land indefinitely, have cost the state $311 million (and rising) Kimes said. Finally, rising construction costs have impacted budgets.

What does it mean for the Wilmington area?

Gordon road has been scheduled to be widened moving the time frame from 2029 to 2025 (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
Gordon road has been scheduled to be widened moving the time frame from 2029 to 2025. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

Every two years the NCDOT released an updated State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), the most recent one, 5.0, was just approved earlier this month. But STIP 4.0 reflected some aggressive project schedules, with many projects accelerated from previous plans.

“Basically we are going to take the first three years of our 10-year program and put delays on those first three years. The only exception to these delays are projects that have GARVEE bonds (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles) or some type of federal bonds …” Kimes said.

Thanks to prior STIP versions, projects in the area are still expected to be completed ahead of schedule, despite the impending delays.

The Hampstead Bypass, for example, is already six years ahead of where it was planned for in version 3.0, Kimes said. Kimes said NCDOT does plan on having the Hampstead Bypass open by 2025.

One of the more significant impacts of the budgeting problems for the area is the interchange that is planned for MLK Avenue and Kerr Avenue will now be delayed three years.

Related: Coming soon to Kerr Avenue, more construction? Wilmington set to approve $549k for aesthetics and sidewalks

This project was the first of several interchanges planned to help relieve traffic in Wilmington and would have made MLK Avenue free-flowing to Downtown.

Another interchange that has been delayed in Wilmington is the bypass planned for Eastwood Road and Military Cutoff Road — that has only been delayed one year, Kimes said.

But just because several area projects have been delayed for years does not mean it will actually take that long for them to begin, he said.

“It is our intent, if the revenues come back online we will bring that project back up, it is ready to go,” Kimes said regarding the Kerr Avenue bypass.

Unaffected or accelerated projects

There are also some projects in the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) vicinity that have not been affected by these delays.

In fact, one project, in particular, the widening of Gordon Road, has been moved up.

Plans are also in the works to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, while plans for the Cape Fear Crossing have been scrapped, these plans are still in the works, Kimes said.

There are also plans still moving forward to widen Front Street in Wilmington. A full list of the unaffected projects can be seen above.

Replacing the bridge

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

“I just want to make this one clear this is not to replace the Cape Fear Crossing. The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement was going to happen anyway, regardless,” he said.

Bridges have to be maintained on a regular basis and the costs to repair and maintain the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge are increasing to the point where it is more efficient to replace it rather than repairing it.

A feasibility study has already been launched and will be put into the STIP 6.0. The current bridge will not be closed during construction, instead, Kimes said NCDOT plans to build the new bridge right next to the existing structure.

There are lots of different factors the NCDOT will take into account when constructing the new bridge and engineering its design including:

  • Historic District / Resources / Parks
  • Low Income / Environmental Justice
  • Traffic Forecasts / Analysis
  • Wetlands & Streams
  • Fixed Span vs Movable Bridge
  • Bike / Pedestrian Accommodations
  • Trucks to the Ports
  • Coordination with Front St Project (U-5734)
  • Rail
  • Financing

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge will be completely demolished once the new bridge is completed, he said.

A full look at the presentation from Kimes to City Council can be found below.

DOT presentation by Michael Praats on Scribd

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