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Transportation committee names draft projects for 25-year plan

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Transportation projects for the next 25 years within the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area were discussed among elected officials from Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties Tuesday, Jan. 6.

The Tuesday meeting of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Committee was designed to begin drafting the WMPO Cape Fear Transportation 2040 Master Plan.

Suraiya Rashid, WMPO senior transportation planner, said the plan’s Citizen Advisory Committee and WMPO staff developed a comprehensive list of all roadway, bicycle and pedestrian, freight and rail, waterway and aviation projects identified within the tri-county area. Now, Rashid said it is up to the TAC to refine the project list and present that list to the individual municipalities and the public before final approval of the plan by December 2015.

Among roadway projects, an enhanced or additional crossing over the Cape Fear River arose as the highest priority. Although the project for an additional crossing, estimated at $1.3 billion, was not eligible for funding from the region’s share of N.C. State Transportation Improvement Project (STIP) funds, the group identified the project as the highest priority for projects that could be funded using alternative funding sources.

Leland Mayor Pro Tem Pat Batleman and Brunswick County Commissioner Frank Williams said they would be willing to part with other projects that were proposed for funding to even fund a strict replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Those projects they identified as ones to swap included a connection between U.S. Highway 17 to N.C. Highway 133, the widening of N.C. 133 and improvements to a section of U.S. Interstate 74.

North Carolina Board of Transportation member John Lennon cautioned the committee about shifting attention from smaller connector roads to major highways and the Cape Fear crossing.

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield Jr. said he would not support a strict replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge without any additional lanes added.

“There is no reason to simply replace the bridge as is,” Barfield said. “It would be a waste of taxpayer money … and would not make any common sense.”

As for projects within New Hanover County, TAC chairwoman and Wilmington City Councilwoman Laura Padgett suggested replacing the Independence Boulevard extension project with the widening and extension of Kerr Avenue to Oleander Drive.

No projects within Wrightsville Beach were removed or added to the draft list of funded projects. Wrightsville Beach projects left off the draft list included two roundabouts along Causeway Drive, and a multimodal bicycle path along Causeway between the Heide Trask Drawbridge and Waynick Boulevard. The multimodal path, estimated at just less than $10 million, was included on the list of projects that could possibly be funded using alternative funding sources. The town’s representative, Hank Miller III, was not present during the review meeting.

The TAC will vote on the draft list of projects at its Jan. 28 meeting and then the list will be presented to the public and to all involved municipalities within the tri-county area.

For a list of projects and prioritization, visit www.wmpo.org

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