Wednesday, August 17, 2022

New Hanover commissioners to hear presentation on tolling Cape Fear Memorial Bridge this month

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, as seen from Wilmington, is aging out of its useful lifespan. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. –– Following the disclosure that a private company submitted an unsolicited proposal to the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to replace the waning Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, members of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners have requested to hear a presentation on the topic for themselves. 

There will be an informational agenda item regarding the bridge proposal placed on the commissioner’s July 13 agenda, according to internal emails. 

RELATED: Unnamed company proposes private funding of Cape Fear Memorial, with unknown toll rates

NCDOT representatives told members of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) that replacing the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, which links New Hanover and Brunswick counties, is “unlikely” to be funded with state dollars over the next 10 years. Enter the new proposal, first reported by WHQR, which would have a private developer bankroll the bridge replacement and, in turn, institute tolls for at least 50 years. 

“We are not making a decisive action on this opportunity, all we are doing is hearing a presentation, and have the MPO decide to take the next step to gather more information,” commissioner Deb Hays wrote in an email to fellow local officials. “We are not committing to anything and can stop the process at any point with no financial outlay. There are many questions at this point, and we cannot get any further answers until we take the next investigative step.”

In response, county chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman added that she, too, would like to hear NCDOT’s presentation in July. Mike Koslosky, executive director of the WMPO, confirmed to county manager Chris Coudriet that he and NCDOT representatives would be ready and available for the July meeting. 

NCDOT received the unsolicited proposal in late 2020, according to a department spokesperson. “The department reviewed it internally before sharing the company’s concept to the WMPO.” NCDOT was asked to participate and present the company’s concept to the WMPO in May and again in June.”

If the WMPO views the plan favorably, “this would go through an open, transparent and competitive bidding process,” the NCDOT spokesperson wrote in an email to Port City Daily. “NCDOT is not advocating for any particular path forward.”

Randy Thompson, chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners, released a statement Friday saying he and fellow board members “have concerns and questions about the proposal based on what has been reported so far.” 

“We are mindful that adding any fee or tax to a service also adds an additional burden on the users, especially those who are on a fixed or low income. Both Brunswick and New Hanover counties, and the Cape Fear region at large, rely on this bridge to connect us to jobs, health care, businesses, and services,” according to Thompson’s statement. 

Meanwhile, Brunswick County Commissioner Frank Williams — a member of the WMPO — offered a less harsh take: “Given the practical realities of transportation funding and prioritization is North Carolina, I am open to further study of this proposal, and I encourage other elected officials to investigate it with an open mind.”

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