NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Monkey Junction, a node of residential and commercial growth in the southern part of the county, could see better pedestrian mobility and safety in coming months.
On Sept. 6, New Hanover County commissioners approved a planning department request to apply for over $400,000 in funding from the federal Surface Transportation Block grant program under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021.
The money will be added to a North Carolina Department of Transportation pedestrian improvement plan near the intersection of Carolina Beach and S. College roads. The $3.7 million project, which started last year, includes funding for construction of a curb and gutter along both sides of Carolina Beach Road from Antoinette Drive to Willoughby Park Road.
A sidewalk will be built on the west side of the road. A black aluminum fence is proposed in the existing median along the entire project corridor. Pedestrian signals, high-visibility crosswalks, and lighting will also be added intersections of Highway 421 at Antoinette Drive and the northernmost Walmart driveway.
The original proposal planned for a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the eastbound side of Carolina Beach Road; however, New Hanover County, NCDOT and Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization agreed a 10-foot-wide multi-use path would better help address long-term health and safety concerns in the area.
The grant makes up for costs for the multi-use path that NCDOT will not cover due to lack of funding. If awarded, $461,000 will go toward the plan, along with a $115,000 cash match by the county. NCDOT will foot the rest of the bill — $577,000.
The multi-use path will stretch 1 mile from Willoughby Park Court to Antoinette Drive.
NCDOT developed the plan around six years ago, according to county planning director Rebekah Roth. She relayed at the Sept. 6 meeting the project was put in place in response to numerous pedestrian deaths near the intersection of Carolina Beach and S. College roads. Staff reported there have been seven bicycle accidents and 16 pedestrian accidents — resulting in six deaths — over the last 10 years.
“It’s amazing to me it’s taken this long for the NCDOT, in my opinion, to step up and do something,” Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said during the Sept. 6 meeting. “It’s so important we increase these amenities that will save lives at the same time.”
The NHC match is not included in this year’s budget, so commissioners would have to coordinate with NCDOT and reach an agreement to include the money in the FY24 budget.
Monkey Junction was designated as an area for targeted growth in PlanNHC, New Hanover County’s Comprehensive Plan, passed in 2016.
Last year, developers secured the last chunk of land on S. College Road in the east quadrant of Monkey Junction. Commissioners approved a 64-acre tract for an expansion of the Whiskey Branch subdivision, bringing 400 apartments and 120,000 square feet of retail space to the area.
Monkey Junction will also gain a new-and-improved park, New Hanover Pine Nature Park, that will offer a 1.3-mile paved multi-use trail, a dog park, hiking trails, a picnic shelter and fitness stations.
The multi-use path will line Carolina Beach Road in Monkey Junction’s north quadrant, and connect pedestrians to many retail options like Walmart and Lowes along with fast-food restaurants. It also will improve connectivity between the growing area’s residential and commercial hubs and promote a safe alternative to vehicular traffic that already clogs the area’s roadways.
The area had between 30,000 and 40,000 daily trips in 2015, according to a Monkey Junction scope report in 2017.
During the Sept. 6 meeting, Commissioner Rob Zapple said the improvements “cannot happen fast enough.”
NCDOT has projected the completion date for fall 2022.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org