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Eastwood, Wrightsville slowdown prescribed

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The speed limit on portions of Eastwood Road and Wrightsville Avenue may be reduced to 35 mph pending approval by Wilmington City Council.

In March, the North Carolina Department of Transportation completed a speed study of the easternmost area at the behest of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Committee and concluded that the speed limits on both roads should be reduced to 35 mph.

The starting point for the recommended 35 mph zone on Eastwood Road would be at the traffic intersection at the entrance to Lumina Commons shopping center. The starting point for the 35 mph zone on Wrightsville Avenue would be around the Wrightsville Avenue entrance to the shopping center.

George Eckart, NCDOT assistant division traffic engineer, said the ongoing renovation of the Heide Trask Drawbridge was one of the factors initiating the unique speed study.

“This study was a little bit different than the norm because of the construction on the bridge,” Eckart said during a Tuesday, April 1 phone interview. “In terms of a typical speed study, this didn’t really fit the bill, so what we did primarily was look at it as a corridor trying to keep things cohesive on both sides of the bridge.”

On the east side of the bridge, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen approved lowering the speed limit on Salisbury Street and Causeway Drive to 35 mph in October 2013 but Eckart said NCDOT is waiting for Wilmington to approve the new Eastwood Road and Wrightsville Avenue speed limits before changing the Wrightsville Beach speed limits.

“What we wanted to do was get concurrence from the city of Wilmington for the west side of the bridge first,” he said. “In a perfect world we would re-sign everything on the same day because it would make the most sense and cause the least amount of confusion.”

City of Wilmington traffic manager Don Bennett said during a Tuesday, April 1 phone interview, that the ordinance adopting the new speed limits has yet to be presented to city council. Bennett said the parcels of land in the Wrightsville Beach town limits on the west side of the drawbridge caused complications in writing the ordinance.

“We may have mixed jurisdiction there so we are looking at the official city limit maps and plats to make sure we have it going from the correct point to the correct point,” Bennett said. “If there are some slices of Wrightsville Beach in there we are going to need to make sure Wrightsville Beach passes an ordinance also.”

Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said during a Tuesday, April 1 phone interview, he has not yet heard if it will be necessary for the board of aldermen to approve any ordinances concerning the Eastwood Road and Wrightsville Avenue speed limits.

Despite the atypical speed test results caused by the construction on the Heide Trask Drawbridge, Eckhart said NCDOT still felt confident in recommending 35 mph zones along those two roads.

“In this area you have a lot of businesses fronting Eastwood Road and Wrightsville Avenue, and you do have this whole mindset of motorists headed to the beach,” Eckart said. “Sometimes they are thinking about the beach more than they are thinking about their drive to the beach. So we really just wanted to focus on maximizing safety through that corridor.”

Former Wrightsville Beach Alderman Bill Sisson was the town’s liaison to the Transportation Advisory Committee at the time the speed study was requested and, like Eckart, mentioned increasing development and pedestrian activity as reasons for the change.

“If you are going to allow development to intensify then you are going to have to do something about traffic,” Sisson said during a Tuesday, April 1 phone interview. “You can either plan for traffic and build the infrastructure accordingly, which is never going to happen, you can try to interrupt traffic with things like traffic calming devices and stop lights … or you can just slow the traffic speed down. I think they have taken the least onerous path here.”

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