WILMINGTON — A six-month project to overhaul two blocks of North Front Street’s streetscape is expected to break ground this January. It is expected to cause disruptions to the flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic through the late winter and early spring.
Funded by the city’s 2014 voter-approved transportation bond, the $2.87-million project encompasses digging up and replacing utility pipes, laying new pavement, and upgrading curbing, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and furnishings. This is the second phase of a two-part project, the first of which was completed over six months in 2010 and cost $1.83 million.
Construction was originally slated to start this past fall and continue through the winter, but downtown business owners expressed concerns about the disorder at their storefronts over the holidays — a peak time for sales. The project would have also reduced foot traffic at a time when many business owners are hoping to make up for financial losses from the pandemic.
“At the request of many of the business owners, the city was gracious enough to put that off until after the Christmas season,” Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes, who advocated for a post-holiday start, said during the council meeting Tuesday. “And everybody on Front Street that’s trying to make a living in retail and restaurants certainly appreciates that.”
The goal is to kick off the project this January, which would set May as the target completion date. However, the contractor needs to obtain materials before confirming the timeline, which could push the project into tourism season.
“We, like everyone else, are having trouble with [the] supply line,” the city’s construction manager, Bret Russell, told council. “So the start date and the date of that construction could move based upon availability of material.”
Twelve years ago, similar enhancements were completed on the first two blocks of North Front between Market and Chestnut streets. The upgrades included replacing utility lines and improving streetscape elements, such as granite curbing, brick plazas, mid-block crossings, waste and recycling bins, decorative lighting, bike racks, and landscaping.
The upcoming project will continue similar improvements down the next two blocks, from Chestnut to Walnut streets.
“As I remember it, we ran into things like wooden sewer pipes,” councilman Kevin O’Grady said during Tuesday’s meeting, reflecting on the work in 2010. “So we’re replacing some very old infrastructure here and it’s really important to do it. I’m looking forward to it, although not looking forward to living with it.”
The city has begun reaching out to the business owners to make them aware and plans to stage the project in a way that limits disruptions to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. However, shutdowns and excavations of a full block at a time are essential to achieving the project.
A Cape Fear Public Utility Authority spokesperson told Port City Daily this past May lines underneath North Front are 70 to 80 years in age, with some sections possibly a century old. While the in-service clay sewer and cast iron water lines are not currently posing issues, the end of their useful life is nearing, the spokesperson explained.
T.A. Loving Company, out of Goldsboro in N.C., was awarded the $2.87-million construction contract for the project. CFPUA, the owner and operator of the water and sewer, is covering around $900,000 of the cost.
Wilmington City Council took action Tuesday night to move the project forward, approving three items: an interlocal agreement to share costs with CFPUA on the water and sewer utility improvements; the contract with T.A. Loving; and a supplemental appropriation to cover construction costs.
According to staff, the project is scheduled to reach “substantial completion” within 145 days of the start date. It will achieve final completion 15 days after that, for a total of 160 days.
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