WILMINGTON –– The City of Wilmington has narrowed down multiple possibilities for a new and shorter rail route to two final options that would no longer cross busy streets or disrupt traffic. Instead, the route would cross over the Cape Fear River via bridges.
It will be years before any physical work begins on the project to relocate the rail across the river, but the team behind the project is already reaching significant milestones in the federally-required, multi-year planning process.
Once the freight tracks are moved, the plan is to repurpose the existing route as some form of public transportation, such as a trolley or bike trail.
On Tuesday the city’s rail realignment director, Aubrey Parsley, presented the project’s progress to council. He reported the city is preparing to open a 30-day public feedback process starting June 28 to garner input on the two short-listed alternatives, details of which will be revealed at that point.
The city adopted its $241.8-million budget this week with $3.5 million allocated for rail realignment efforts in fiscal year 2022. Those millions set aside will mainly go toward completing the conceptual engineering and environmental review work required by the National Environmental Policy Act before preliminary engineering can commence.
After a year, the city is just over midway through its environmental review work. The process includes comparing feasible designs to identify a few ideal routes.
“The preferred alternative is one that will be determined to be the least environmentally damaging but still practical and still accomplishes the project’s purpose,” Parsley said in his presentation, referencing LEPDA guidelines that govern water-related impact projects.
Three potential route corridors were identified in a feasibility study completed in 2017. Through the environmental review, the city yielded six potential routes that fit within those corridors. Those six routes were recently narrowed down to two final contestants.
Through public outreach, project leaders plan to highlight how it came to those two alternatives. Then, it will report feedback to regulating agencies. The goal is to ultimately determine a final preferred route, refining the project to a 200-foot corridor.
The U.S. Coast Guard would also need to issue preliminary navigational clearance for the two bridges that are planned to cross the Cape Fear River –- another federal process that will require ample public input.
“It obviously involves a lot of due diligence, as it should, with the maritime community, users of the waterway and other agencies and regulators like the Army Corps of Engineers,” Parsley said.
The public outreach effort will run through July 26 and includes two Zoom events for attendees to ask questions or offer comments to the team. Information will also be viewable in hard copies at libraries.
“There’s a lot of details that go into this project, but it’s a very important project for this community,” Mayor Bill Saffo said after Tuesday’s presentation. “Having 38 rail crossings in the middle of the city, it’s important that we stay focused on the future and where the future is for this community is that we need to move that rail on the other side.”
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