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Local officials want DOT to shorten proposed turn lanes on Market Street

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In deference to a historic cemetery and a majestic old tree, the Wilmington area Transportation Advisory Committee was to consider a resolution Wednesday, Sept. 30 asking the state not to widen a section of Market Street known for its traffic congestion.

As part of the planned Military Cutoff extension, the North Carolina Department of Transportation proposes adding continuous right-turn lanes between Military Cutoff and Lendire roads, just north of the Middle Sound Loop.

But that project could require moving graves at the historic Mt. Ararat A.M.E. Church cemetery and endanger a large tree known as the Ogden Oak. Some residents of the area and people affiliated with the church are worried the turn lanes will endanger those landmarks.

Former New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan “Joe” Barfield Sr., whose son now chairs the board of commissioners, has family graves in the cemetery. His parents’ graves are close enough to the church that they wouldn’t be affected, but he said other families could be.

“The cemetery didn’t encroach on the road; the road encroached on the cemetery,” Barfield said. “That’s a very sacred thing.”

He said it sometimes seems to him that DOT officials don’t understand that, and that black landmarks are often overlooked.

Barfield said he is pleased the local transportation committee was considering the resolution, and he hopes the DOT agrees to scale down the turn lanes to protect the landmarks.

The committee had not made its decision as of press time Wednesday, but Wilmington City Councilwoman Laura Padgett, who chairs the committee, has been an outspoken advocate for protecting significant trees.

So has state Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, who introduced a bill this year that would require the DOT to consider historic or otherwise significant “heritage trees” when mapping out roads.

“Kudos to the [committee] for taking another stand to protect our heritage trees and historic cemeteries,” Hamilton said in a text message. “And also to the NCDOT for working with them.”

Mike Kozlosky, who heads the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the proposal is to have the turn lanes stop near Ogden Park Drive rather than run all the way to Middle Sound Loop. Doing so would allow transportation officials to put a stoplight at the Market Street entrance to Ogden Park, he said.

Construction on the Military Cutoff extension is scheduled to begin in 2018 and be completed in 2021. In addition to turn lanes on Market Street, medians also will be installed.

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