Neighborhood groups and preservation organizations with interests in the Market Street corridor between Covil Avenue and 16th Street are again calling for a road diet that would two lane that span of Market Street.
The Market Street road diet was part of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s U.S. 17 Business Corridor Study, finalized in 2007. Within that study a road diet lessening that stretch of Market Street to two lanes was recommended with the provision that it should only come after the Independence Boulevard extension project was finalized. At that time, right of way acquisition funding for the $152 million extension project was approved by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
However, in addition to the onset of the recent economic recession and shift in state transportation funding, Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Mike Kozlosky said it is unlikely the project would receive funding anytime soon because it did not score well in NCDOT’s new funding system and it would consume a majority of the $190 million in transportation funding slated for the entirety of NCDOT Division III’s 10-year program.
With funding for the extension not likely, the Carolina Place Ardmore Neighborhood Association and the Historic Wilmington Foundation renewed the push for the road diet during the past year, collecting more than 600 signatures that were presented to Wilmington City Council during its Aug. 5 meeting. During that meeting city council approved allocating $15,000 to revisit the study and determine if a road diet would be feasible without the Independence Boulevard extension.
The Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Committee will vote whether to provide the required matching $15,000 and continue with the study during its Aug. 27 meeting. If it progresses, Kozlosky said the study would look at the city traffic system as a whole and specifically that area of Market Street.
“It will be a systems-level analysis as well as intersection level analysis to determine the feasibility of implementing a road diet on Market Street from Covil Avenue to 16th Street,” Kozlosky said during a Tuesday, Aug. 19 phone interview. “It really looks at how our infrastructure will function if you remove the Independence Boulevard extension from the mix. [City] staff has cautioned that the professional engineers and planners that prepared the report in 2007 identified the need for the extension to be completed prior to implementation of the road diet.”
While the residents of Carolina Place and Ardmore have heard city planners’ concerns about Market Street traffic seeping into their neighborhoods as a result of the road diet, Carolina Place Ardmore Neighborhood Association president Charles Blanton said the road diet still received unanimous support.
“Probably about every two weeks there is an accident and about every month or two there is a serious accident in this little corridor,” Blanton said during a Tuesday, Aug. 19 phone interview. “We have had people hit trees, we have had people up in yards and one of the worst ones was a car ended up in the lawn of one of the historic mansions on its side, tore up the lawn and was inches away from hitting the gas line.”
The health of the historic oaks that line this stretch of Market Street and the historic character of the neighborhoods also encouraged the Historic Wilmington Foundation to join the cause, Blanton said. In 2014, the foundation listed this stretch of the Market Street corridor on its annual Most Threatened Places list.
“We want [the road diet]because it preserves the historic nature of this corridor,” he said. “You bring it down to two lanes and it looks better and it saves the historic entrance to the city.”
In addition to traffic calming, Blanton said residents of the area believe reducing Market Street to two lanes would make the neighborhood safer for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
“We have been going to these neighborhood planning meetings and everyone is talking about walkable neighborhoods and connectivity, and right now we can’t walk across the street to Port City Java because the traffic is so bad,” he said. “The four lanes of Market Street in this space are about the same size as Front Street and no one would ever think that is a big enough street to run four lanes at 35 to 45 miles per hour.”
Mike Kozlosky said there is currently no timeline for the study. If a recommended change to the Market Street roadway in that space does emerge from the new study, Kozlosky said it would also have to be approved by NCDOT because it is a state road.