WILMINGTON — Tuesday, city council unanimously approved funds that will kick off the design phase of the initial 2.2-mile portion of the Wilmington Rail Trail. The trail will encourage multimodal travel and increase connectivity — all while repurposing what was once a fundamental element to the city.
A collaborative effort between city and regional officials, the trail will revive abandoned rail lines to create a 5.9-mile bicycle and pedestrian greenway. The city was awarded $680,000 from N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for the engineering of phase one. Through legislation passed in 2015, the city is allowed to lease property from NCDOT for the multi-use trail for “interim public recreation.”
Phase one of the rail trail will begin at Third Street and stretch to McRae Street, abutting Dorothy B. Johnson Pre-K Center. The route will traverse east along the abandoned CSX rail line to Archie Blue Park and end at Love Grove Bridge.
The initial phase will prepare the corridor for development, including creating a drainage system and leveling the land. Phase two will install protective fencing and incorporate public art, as well as amenities such as wayfinding signage, seating, water fountains and exercise equipment.
The funding for phase one comes from Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s $1.4 million allocation from the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Supplemental Appropriations Act. The city applied for a portion of the grant money in August 2021. The awarded finances will support the engineering of the trail and cover $68,000 in NCDOT fees. The city’s on-call engineering firm, WSP, will complete the design.
According to WMPO director Mike Kozlosky, survey work on the trail is expected to be done in March. Construction funding and timeline is not yet known.
The rail trail was first identified in the 2013 New Hanover/City of Wilmington Comprehensive Greenway Plan. One of its goals is to ease access from underserved communities in the Northside and Love Grove to downtown amenities. Of roughly 4,800 people who live in this vicinity, 19% living within a half-mile of Northside do not have access to a vehicle, according to the 2020 Wilmington Rail Trail master plan.
The 12-foot-wide trail will revitalize the unused six-block rail corridor, abandoned when the Atlantic Coast Line ceased passenger rail service in downtown Wilmington in 1968; CSX, who took over the rail line after ACL, officially shut down the corridor in 1990. The future goal is to re-establish passenger rail service alongside the walking trails, leaving about 20 feet of space in between the future railway and the trails.
Total construction costs are estimated at $5.4 million, and will include clean-up, the addition of ADA accessible ramps, modifying a retaining wall and hydraulic improvements.
WMPO also recognized the need for this connectivity in its Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 Metropolitan Transportation plan, adopted Nov. 18, 2020. The 25-year strategy outlines transportation projects for the Cape Fear region and is used by federal, state and local governments for planning purposes.
The Cape Fear Moving Forward plan identifies top priorities, including improving safety and quality of existing roads, and bicycle and pedestrian safety efforts.
Based on community surveys and feedback of the 2045 plan, three out of five people said they would prefer to walk to school or work more often and two out of three said they would bicycle more often.
WMPO, city officials, NCDOT and community organizations — Friends of the Wilmington Rail Trail and the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County — are advocates for this initiative. Its grassroots efforts first gained traction in 2019 when the city adopted a resolution in support of the project.
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