Bike safety projects planned near the beach

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Those biking to Wrightsville Beach will soon have a safer path to ride, both over and underneath the Heide Trask Drawbridge.

Two separate projects for bicycle and pedestrian improvements are planned for the coming months: a bike path under the west side of the drawbridge to divert cyclists crossing Wrightsville Avenue, and steel planks covering the drawbridge’s metal grids for those crossing the bridge.

The bike and pedestrian path under the drawbridge will be an 8-foot-wide concrete path connected to a boardwalk. It will start near the intersection of Airlie Road and Wrightsville Avenue, pass under the drawbridge as an open-slat timber boardwalk, and connect to the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail on the north side of Wrightsville Avenue.

The City of Wilmington’s proposed design also indicates the pathway will be lit at night and include an octagonal gazebo on the north side.

“Picture the clover leaf design of a highway ramp,” said Wilmington Parks and Recreation Superintendent Amy Beatty. “This is a wooden timber boardwalk ramp from the [cross-city] trail down underneath the drawbridge and then there will be a boardwalk ramp coming back up the hill on the other side.”

Beatty said the intersection of Wrightsville Avenue and Airlie Road was identified as a safety concern several years ago because of the high volume of traffic and the lack of pedestrian crossings.

“There have been bicycle and pedestrian accidents in the vicinity,” she said.

In 2013, the city obtained a $560,000 transportation grant, which funds 80 percent of the project. The planning and permitting process was lengthy because of environmental issues and other concerns.

To obtain the necessary vertical clearance between the path and the underside of the drawbridge, the boardwalk extends into the Intracoastal Waterway. In order to ensure minimal impact on that environment, Beatty said the city received a Coastal Area Management Act major permit and permission from the Federal Highway Administration.

“They look at what sort of habitat the project is being constructed in. We have biologists take a look at the area,” she said.

The city also received a permit from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office because the Heide Trask Drawbridge is eligible for historic designation.

Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens is keeping an eye on the project because the proposed boardwalk runs close to the town’s water and sewer lines. The sewer line on the north side of the drawbridge carries all of the town’s sewage from the island and the water line on the south side is the emergency connection to Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

Owens met with Beatty and Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization Senior Project Engineer Corey Knight to make sure they were aware of his concerns and said he hopes to be invited to any pre-construction meetings.

Knight said construction could start this fall and finish by early 2016. Impacts to traffic during the construction process would be minimal, he said.

Safety improvements are also planned for cross-city trail bikers continuing over the drawbridge. Federal funds were recently approved for a North Carolina Department of Transportation project to install lightweight steel plates over the metal grids on the drawbridge. The plates would be 30 inches wide and coated with non-skid material.

In 2014, many local cyclists emailed city officials expressing concerns about the safety of biking over the drawbridge’s metal grids, especially after a rainstorm. Wrightsville Beach Director of Planning and Parks Katie Ryan said the project should start in early 2016.

email emmy@luminanew.com

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