Saturday, June 15, 2024

High-priority Wilmington transportation project gets a shoutout in Congress

Dennis Jay Clark
The first phase of the Military Cutoff-Eastwood Road interchange project would introduce a quadrant by extending Drysdale Drive from Landfall to Eastwood Road. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCDOT)

WILMINGTON—Recent movements in Washington, D.C. could make life easier for a crucial roadway project in Wilmington.

The Invest in America Act, which cleared a U.S. House committee last week, is a “five-year, $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill.” Throughout its formulation, Members of Congress were equipped with earmarks — the ability to write in line items for local needs. The practice has resurged after a long moratorium and Rep. David Rouzer dedicated his lone submission to the intersection of Eastwood Road and Military Cutoff Road.

READ MORE: Rouzer asks for $3.8 million to extend Drysdale Dr. from Landfall to Eastwood

If passed into law, the bill would put forward funding for the first phase of an overarching interchange project that has been in the pipeline for years. There’s a dead-end road called Drysdale Drive that must be extended out to connect Eastwood and Military Cutoff. It’s a precursor to the traffic improvements planned for 2025, which will require major road closures.

Drysdale Drive exudes out of Landfall and dead-ends at a traffic light on Military Cutoff. The extension would shoot the road around the single-family Eastport neighborhood and connect it to Eastwood. 

“There’s a couple of things at play,” said Natalie English, president of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.

Drivers will need an alternate route heading east and south at the time of the interchange work. One currently doesn’t exist, but the extended Drysdale Drive will fill this role once completed. Construction on the Drysdale extension is slated to start March 2022 and conclude in the fall of 2023. 

“It doesn’t impact the timeline. It just impacts the level of security,” English said. “But it’s important, we need to get Drysdale complete because it’s a critical piece of the improvement of the Military Cutoff-Eastwood interchange.”

RELATED: NHCSO asks David Rouzer to use earmark for rapid DNA testing machine

The Drysdale project was already approved to be funded with federal dollars. Mike Koslosky, the executive director of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), said the inclusion in this latest bill provides more flexibility to N.C. Department of Transportation budgets.

“If the project were to receive a federal earmark, it would free up our other federal funds to use elsewhere,” an NCDOT spokesperson previously told Port City Daily.

City and county politicians, NCDOT and the Chamber of Commerce all sent letters of support to Rouzer to bolster WMPO’s request for money from the Congressman. The requested amount is $3.84 million.

“We identified a lower-cost project that could have a significant impact on our future transportation infrastructure,” Koslosky said. “It’s one of the [WMPO’s] top five priority funded projects.” 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the City of Wilmington said: “The funding breakdown would be 80 percent federal funding with a 20 percent local match from the state.” 

Local governments aren’t the only stakeholders eager to see progress on the Drysdale Drive project and the overarching interchange. Developers behind the CenterPoint mixed-use project — approved for a 300-unit apartment complex, 200-room hotel, and space for retail, restaurant, medical and office uses — will also benefit from improvements to Drysdale. 

According to Koslosky, a condition on the CenterPoint development prevents certificates of occupancy from being issued until the Drysdale improvements are installed. 

“The developer has committed to not construct it until Drysdale is complete, so everyday we have to wait for Drysdale to be complete, that’s delaying the ability for this developer to complete their project and actually make money,” English said. “And time is money, but they in good faith have said they’re willing to wait.” 

Rouzer was one of two Republicans in N.C.’s congressional delegation to have transportation earmarks included in the bill, according to the News & Observer. The other was freshman Madison Cawthorn, who represents the state’s westernmost reaches, with seven items included in the bill. All five N.C. Democrats inserted projects into the bill. The six other Republicans did not submit requests; some of them have publicly opposed the return of earmarks, the N&O reported

“Investments in our infrastructure are critical to continue to accommodate the growth that is coming no matter what we do,” English said. “We have to keep finding the ways to secure funding, like this does, and/or create modernized funding mechanisms at the state, local, and federal level to accommodate the growth.”

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