It doesn’t take an engineer to notice the intersection of Military Cutoff and Eastwood roads is congested.
Residents had a chance Tuesday to ask questions and offer their comments in advance of the design phase of a N.C. Department of Transportation project to ease the congestion. DOT officials, including project engineer Kim Gillespie, were on hand at St. Andrew’s on the Sound Episcopal Church to provide as much information as they had at their disposal.
From the looks of the tables where people were filling out comment sheets, folks in the Wilmington region have a lot to say. Some of them vocalized their concerns.
David J. Pate, who doesn’t live near the intersection but uses Military Cutoff frequently, said the real problem is the DOT didn’t build it right in the first place. The road should have contained more lanes from the beginning.
“It would have saved a lot of money for the state and a lot for the citizens of North Carolina,” Pate said.
Military Cutoff, widened after Mayfaire was built, carried more than 41,000 vehicles a day in 2013. That number is projected to jump to 64,400 by 2035. Eastwood, the lesser traveled of the two, carried 22,000 vehicles in 2013 and is projected to reach 39,300 per day.
A traditional widening is out for a number of reasons, but mainly because accommodating all the traffic would require building at least one additional through lane, a right-turn lane, and another left-turn lane each way — that’s a three-lane left turn — in each direction.
Bike paths also run along both roads, and the DOT’s challenge will be to create a design that allows pedestrians, bicyclists and cars to use the intersection safely.
The project is funded in the DOT’s transportation improvement plan, with $25 million allotted for construction, which would begin in 2022, Gillespie said. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will cost that much, she said; it represents what is budgeted.
Before the DOT can even begin buying right of way, the project has to be designed. Engineers have no preconceived ideas but did produce a brochure that shows what some communities have done to improve congested intersections.
Two of the options involve raised interchanges, and the third is a complex configuration that eliminates the need for left turns.
But Gillespie said the DOT first will consider the comments offered during Tuesday’s drop-in session. At least one resident emailed Gillespie asking that any design take pedestrians into consideration.
Parker Creech, who attended Tuesday’s meeting and lives in Eastport on the northwest corner of the intersection, worries that a raised interchange would leave him with devalued property and deprive him of privacy.
“I don’t want people looking down on me,” he said. “It would devastate the property value.”
The transportation meeting also attracted the attention of elected officials and candidates who would like to hold office. Among those in attendance were Wrightsville Beach Alderman Hank Miller, Wilmington City Council candidates Hollis Briggs and Paul Lawler, and New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple.
According to the approved timetable, design would begin this winter, with right-of-way acquisition scheduled for 2020.