WIMLINGTON, NC (WECT) - Some new details emerged Monday morning about the future of a new bridge across the Cape Fear River.
Transportation officials have narrowed the river crossing down to two main options: replacing the existing Cape Fear Memorial Bridge downtown, or building a new southern crossing near Independence Blvd.
North Carolina Department of Transportation officials flew to Wilmington Monday, and showed elected officials video of a proposed 8 lane, fixed-span bridge into Downtown Wilmington. Because of the higher rise, the proposed $450 million bridge would tie further inland at Fifth Street in Wilmington with exit ramps for Third Street traffic.
That's the bridge crossing favored by many people in Leland.
"We just see it as the most efficient, the quickest way to cross, gets people to where they want to be," explained Pat Batleman, Leland Town Council's appointee to the Transportation Advisory Committee.
The other alternative - favored by several TAC members on the Wilmington side of the bridge - is a southern crossing near Independence Blvd. Benefits include keeping port traffic out of Downtown Wilmington and preserving historic properties in Downtown Wilmington that would be condemned in the path of a Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement.
"My preference would be we impact the least amount of people possible in New Hanover County," said Commissioner Jonathan Barfield. "We're trying to accommodate the growth that's happening in Brunswick County, but the greatest impact on people is actually happening here in New Hanover County."
Because the river is wider at the proposed southern crossing, construction of the bridge itself would be considerably more expensive - about $650 million according to the latest estimates. But that's much less than the original billion dollar estimate for the Cape Fear Skyway. DOT employees say that they have a better gauge of the project now, and have been able to eliminate some of their worst-case-scenario pricing.
But TAC members expressed frustration that DOT officials didn't have many details on the additional construction costs and environmental impacts on either side of the proposed bridges, information elected leaders say they specifically asked for.
"They have 4 years worth of work on that, so they have some data, and I was expecting them to bring that data," said TAC Chairwoman Laura Padgett.
The DOT is expected to provide some of those numbers early next month so the TAC can make an informed decision. But they say between planning and construction, it's going to be at least 10 years before construction on this new bridge is finished.
The DOT did explore the cost of putting a new tunnel under the Cape Fear River rather than a new bridge, but the cost estimates came in at $88 million more than the most expensive option already on the table. The idea did not seem to generate much enthusiasm from TAC members.
On a positive note - transportation officials are no longer insisting this new bridge being a toll road.
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