By Scott Marx
As the population continues to grow over the bridge from Wrightsville Beach, so does traffic and congestion, with city, state and regional agencies working to move forward with a variety of projects aimed at relieving congestion throughout Wilmington. One of the most congested roadway segments identified – the intersection of Military Cutoff and Eastwood Roads – is among a group of six projects that have been approved, funded and are currently moving forward.
Current forecasts project the combined population of New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties to grow from approximately 392,000 in 2016 to nearly 600,000 by the late 2030s — an increase of almost 48 percent. And traffic is expected to grow even faster. According to DOT figures, Military Cutoff had an average vehicle count of 41,000 in 2015 with that number expected to grow to 64,000 by 2035.
Plans presented to the Wilmington City Council in January include a grade- separated overpass at the intersection allowing Military Cutoff Road to pass under Eastwood Road. At an estimated cost of $25.8 million, the NCDOT plans to secure rights of way by Fiscal Year 2020, construction to begin in 2022 and be completed by 2024. The design was chosen from a selection of eight different functional designs which were presented to the public in August of 2017. Public input was solicited throughout the Fall and the final decision made in December.
With nearly 70 projects identified, the Wilmington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) is working with local representatives from the NCDOT as well as city and county representatives to rank, rate and prioritize efforts. In addition to the project at Military Cutoff and Eastwood Roads, plans for five other intersections are currently moving forward:
• MLK Parkway and Market Street
• MLK Parkway and Kerr Avenue
• MLK Parkway and College Road
• College Road and Oleander Drive
• College Road and Carolina Beach Road
The WMPO is a federally funded organization based in the City of Wilmington. Created in 1978 when the population exceeded 50,000 people, the organization now provides transportation planning services for an area of 494 square miles and an approximate population of 280,000 people. The organization also includes Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority (Wave Transit) and the North Carolina Board of Transportation.
One of the primary responsibilities of the WMPO is the creation and adoption of a Metropolitan Transportation Plan. A multi-modal, fiscally constrained, long range planning document with a plan horizon minimum of 20 years, the document serves as a blueprint for the future transportation needs of the region. The WMPO’s currently adopted MTP, Cape Fear Transportation 2040, was adopted in November of 2015. The plan update, Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045, must be adopted by November of 2020.
On Tuesday, April 3rd, the WMPO held a kick-off event for the plan update at the Northeast Branch Public Library. This event begins a four-month public involvement process during which citizens of the region will have an opportunity to provide their ideas and solutions for the future of transportation in the area.
For more information, the plan’s website, www.CapeFearMovingForward2045.org, includes links to an online transportation survey and a modal input map, as well as additional information about the organization, plan development, and a calendar of events. The online transportation survey includes questions about how the public commute and travel day to day and transportation preference. The modal input map allows for citizens to propose new transportation ideas. Throughout the month of April, WMPO staff will be making presentations about the plan and opportunities for public involvement at each of the member jurisdictions’ governing boards meetings.
An additional five open houses will be held in May on the following dates at the following locations:
• May 1, 4-6pm at Carolina Beach Town Hall
• May 8, 4-6pm at Leland Town Hall
• May 10, 4-6pm at the Hampstead Annex
• May 14, 4-6pm at the NHC Senior Center
• May 16, 4-6pm at Wilmington City Hall