Saturday, June 3, 2023

Take 5: NCDOT to replace Brunswick bridge, gas prices still rising

Gas prices were $4.17 a gallon at a Shell in Wilmington Sunday. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — As news unfolds throughout the week, Port City Daily tries to cover topics that remain top-of-mind to the community. However, small newsrooms like PCD can’t always get to everything. (Consider supporting our work here.)

“Take 5” is a weekly roundup of five headlines that are important nonetheless and should be on the public’s radar — but didn’t necessarily make it on the site as soon as the news dropped.

1. Nearly $6M in NCDOT projects to disrupt traffic near Leland

A 1973 bridge in Brunswick County will soon be replaced, the N.C. Department of Transportation announced this week. Plus, 10 miles of roadway is scheduled for resurfacing.

Accoriding to NCDOT, the N.C. 87 bridge, which goes over the Batarora Branch river west of Leland, is currently “functionally obsolete” for modern-day traffic and needs to be swapped out with an up-to-date structure. The substructures currently demand more maintenance to keep the bridge safely open than makes financial sense.

ES Wagner Co. LLC, of Piedmont, S.C., was awarded the $1.15-million replacement project. This spring, the route over the bridge will close as work commences this spring and continues for eight months.

During that time, drivers can follow a marked detour to U.S. 17, Interstate 140 and U.S. 74, returning to N.C. 87 in the Sandy Creek community.

Wilson’s S.T. Wooten Corp. is undertaking the second, $4.8-million project to repave about four miles of U.S. 17 (Ocean Highway East) in Leland, between the U.S. 74 interchange and just east of Hewett-Burton Road. A six-mile stretch of Green Hill Road south of Leland will be repaved as well.

The work will go on at night, from 8 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Motorists should expect periodic lane closures, divided out into small sections of U.S. 17, from April through the spring of 2023.

2. Gas prices reach all-time high, early study suggests limited impact on summer travel

The nationwide gas price average is breaking records at $4-plus per gallon. As of Sunday, prices nationally are averaging at $4.32; North Carolinians are likely paying a little less, around $4.18.

A year ago, prices were $2.85. A month ago, they were $3.33. Prices at the pump had been steadily ticking up since New Year’s, attributed to weakened supply and heightened demand. The war in Ukraine drove oil prices to spike in late February, up 70 cents in the first 14 days of the conflict.

The incline is causing companies like Uber to tack on surcharges. Experts predict airline tickets will soon soar globally as jet fuel follows suit. With trucking companies paying more, those costs are expected to be passed along in the goods they’re carrying, like groceries. Parcel carriers like FedEx and UPS are expected to see fuel surcharges climb 30%, Modern Shipper reported.

According to an AAA study, two-thirds of Americans felt gas was too expensive when it was $3.53 a gallon a few weeks ago. More than half, 59%, said they would alter their driving habits or lifestyle once the cost surpassed the $4 mark.

Three-quarters of Americans said they would need to adjust their day-to-day life if it reached $5, now seen in some states like California and Hawaii.

Of those drivers, a majority, 80%, said plan to cut back on driving. There were some differences between age groups: 18- to 34 year-olds are nearly three times as likely to carpool. Twenty-nine percent of younger drivers were open to the method, compared to the 11% of those 35 and up.

Drivers 35 and over are more likely to combine errands (68% vs 52%) and to cut down their shopping or eating out budgets (53% vs. 43%), according to the survey.

It likely won’t deter tourists too much from traveling to the local beach towns. According to AAA, 52% of Americans intend to vacation this summer, and of those, 42% said it was unlikely they’d change travel plans based on gas.

AAA shared some tips for saving at the stations:

  • Regularly inspect your car and properly inflate the tires
  • Map routes before heading out to limit unnecessary turnarounds and backtracking
  • Avoid peak traffic times
  • Go to “one-stop shops” where multiple tasks can be completed, such as banking and shopping
  • Reduce highway speeds by 5 to 10 miles per hour
  • Shut off your car rather than idling
  • Opt for toll highways to avoid stops and slowdowns
  • Only use premium gas if your car requires it

3. NHCS’ newly appointed equity officer is retiring

New Hanover County Schools’ recently appointed chief of diversity, equity and inclusion is retiring come May 1, WHQR reported.

Hired in 1998, LaChawn Smith served as assistant principal of Williston Middle until 2000. She then spent eight years as principal at Murray Middle and a decade at Sunset Park Elementary. In March 2011 she joined the central office, first as the priority schools coach, then as director of instructional services and up to assistant superintendent of instruction.

Following Rick Holliday’s controversial departure amid Michael Kelly’s arrest, Smith was promoted to the role of deputy superintendent. She started her new role as chief of diversity, equity and inclusion on Jan. 6, earning a $142,402 annual salary.

The new position was created at the recommendation of an audit report penned by Sophic Solutions. The consultant contract was recently terminated, in part because the school board recognized it had filled this new position.

4. CIL Capital makes $50M investment in ILM Business Park

On Mar. 2, the New Hanover County Airport Authority approved a new lease in its 140-acre ILM Business Park with current tenant CIL Capital.

“Due to overwhelming demand, CIL Capital has decided to move forward with a second facility at the ILM Business Park,” Michael Daily, CIL Capital’s COO, said in a press release. 

Commissioner chair Julia Olson-Boseman praised the company’s expanded footprint as a long-term boon to the Wilmington economy, as the company signed a 30-year lease. “It will bring more jobs and increase the tax base,” Olson-Bosenan said in the release.

The Indiana-based company signed a ground lease in November to develop a 500,000-square-foot storage and distribution facility for the life sciences industry. It signed another ground lease last week to build a 250,000-square-foot cold storage facility, estimated to cost $50 million.

Founder and CEO Michael Hockett said during an expansion announcement last fall North Carolina is the second-largest manufacturer of pharmaceuticals in the U.S., yet falls 17th place for cold-storage distributors.

“That says there’s a void here that somebody can fill,” he expressed.

CIL Capital is an investment management company that works with various businesses from real estate to telecommunications. 

Donna Girardot, chairman of the New Hanover County Airport Authority, said in the release, CIL’s expansion “is a testament to their belief that they see ILM as a true economic development partner and the Business Park as a strategic location where they will thrive.” 

The park is centrally located between the airfield, highways, rail and the port. It also has a foreign trade zone status and is accessible to customs. There are 19 tenants in the ILM Business Park, according to a spokesperson for the airport. Their facilities take up approximately 100 acres. 

CIL Capital’s facilities, parcels 17 through 21, cover almost 29 acres. It will pay a monthly rent of $59,796.99.

5. Supreme court rules to protect domestic violence victims in same-sex cases

Victims of domestic abuse in same-sex marriages and divorces can now seek emergency restraining orders for the first time in North Carolina, News & Observer reported.

Friday, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling on the decisions. Judges determined it was a violation of the state constitution not to extend the protection. The case, M.E. v. T.J., involved a breakup and domestic dispute between two anonymous women, one of whom feared for her safety.

“This should be a given. Now it’s the law,” Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted Friday. “Everyone should be protected from domestic violence.”

Cooper and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein both filed legal briefings in the case.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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