WILMINGTON — U.S. Representative David Rouzer is using one of his earmark requests to ask for $3.84 million in financing for the first phase of Military Cutoff-Eastwood Road traffic improvements: extending Drysdale Drive.
The half-public, half-private road currently exits Landfall and dead ends at a traffic light on Military Cutoff.
The N. C. Department of Transportation plans to wrap Drysdale Drive across Military Cutoff around the existing single-family neighborhood, Eastport, reaching Eastwood Road. It will provide direct access to CenterPoint, a major mixed-use development approved for a 300-unit apartment complex, 200-room hotel, 90,200 sq. ft. of retail space, 30,900 sq. ft. of restaurant space, and 102,300 sq. ft. in medical and office space.
Serving a seven-county district, the congressman picked two Cape Fear projects for his requested earmarks —- the first congressional earmarks allowed in a decade. His other Cape Fear ask is for $400,000 new rapid DNA testing machines for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, which could help locally streamline an eight-month state testing backlog.
Of the seven earmarks Rouzer has identified so far, the Drysdale Drive extension is the costliest.
Banned in 2011 because of concerns of supporting pet projects, earmarks returned earlier this year, with members of the House permitted 10 each.
Representatives must now provide evidence of community support when submitting the requests; Rouzer procured letters of support for the Drysdale Drive extension from Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, New Hanover County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman and Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr., Wilmington Chamber of Commerce CEO Natalie English, and Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Mike Kozlosky.
The U.S. Senate has yet to nail down how it will handle earmarks, leaving some uncertainty around what exactly could happen to the requests.
Drysdale Drive is already slated to be funded with federal dollars in fiscal year 2022. If the request is approved and it’s a new money earmark, Kozlosky said it would free up additional funding for NCDOT. If it’s an existing money earmark, NCDOT wouldn’t be forced to re-prioritize projects, according to Kozlosky.
“This interchange project is a top priority for the MPO Board,” he wrote in an email.
Eastwood Road at the Military Cutoff intersection was operating at an “E” level of service as of 2015. If no improvements are made by 2035, it’ll get downgraded to an “F,” the lowest-ranking service level. With the proposed changes, it will be upgraded to an “D” or better, according to MPO’s infrastructure request form.
Right-of-way acquisition, a $1.87 million cost, is currently underway for the Drysdale Drive extension. It will cost $4.8 million to construct; 80% will be federally financed and 20% will derive from state Highway Trust Funds.
The parent project — creating an interchange at the Eastwood-Military Cutoff intersection — will cost $31.6 million to construct. Right-of-way acquisitions for this second phase are scheduled to begin in 2023, costing an estimated $11.5 million, according to an NCDOT spokesperson. Construction is slated for 2025.
“If the project were to receive a federal earmark, it would free up our other federal funds to use elsewhere,” the NCDOT spokesperson wrote in an email.
If released as a new money earmark, the funds would go back to NCDOT as a whole — not just the local NCDOT division. “We will make best use of our federal funds program to deliver projects in our state so it will be a benefit to all areas of the State including Division 3,” the spokesperson wrote.
NCDOT chose to split the project into phases to help the intersection due to an increase in developments. The first phase will have minimal disturbance to existing traffic, according to the spokesperson.
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