Here We Grow: The future of planes, trains and automobiles

Here We Grow: The future of planes, trains and automobiles

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - We are taking a closer look at Wilmington's future, what is being done to prepare for all the extra people expected to move here and how the growth will impact your schools, your neighborhoods and your way of life.

Wilmington's population is expected to grow by 60,000 people over the next 25 years.

Our first story in the series looks at transportation and what's coming to keep us moving on the roads and in the air.


Right now, 800,000 people travel through the Wilmington International Airport each year.

By 2023, that number is expected to double, which means the airport has to get larger to accommodate all of those passengers.

Airport Director Julie Wilsey said the airport is planning to double the number of gates and build parking decks.

The project could cost $58 to $80 million, money that will come from federal grants.

Wilsey said the airport is also working with the airlines in hopes of getting more destinations added in the future.

Meantime, the airport is seeing an uptick in its corporate business, with more companies building private hangars for their private jets.

The airport's campus is also growing. Eventually, there will be a business park and hotel right next to ILM.

Wilsey said though, despite all the changes in the pipeline for ILM, the airport won't lose its hometown feel.

"We're not going to lose that hometown hospitality," Julie Wilsey said. "All the comments that we get from our first time visitors or people who move here, they really love this airport because it has that hometown feel."


Plans are chugging along when it comes to the future of trains in Wilmington.

An effort is underway to realign the rail.

Lara Padgett is leading a group tasked to study the tracks in town.

She said ideally, the CSX rail line would be moved over the Cape Fear River for a faster route into the growing Port of Wilmington.

Then, the current commercial tracks would be transformed into a trolley or light rail system for commuters.

"It would connect a lot of people who already live in town but it also creates amazing housing opportunities for people to get around without being dependent on a car," Padgett said.

The plan would take cars off the road, Padgett explained, making the streets less congested. It would also cut down on the number of crossings that pit cars against commercial trains. Right now, that happens in more than 30 spots in the city.

"At this point, we haven't run into anyone who doesn't want it to happen," Padgett said. "Now, the big question is how are we going to pay for it and how long is it going to take and who is going to pay for it. Those are questions that I have steadfastly said we're not going to address until we get some factual information back from the feasibility study."

The rail realignment task force is working to select an engineering firm for the feasibility study. Padgett said she doesn't want to speculate at this point how much the project would cost. She said she it will take a public-private partnership to get it done.


When it comes to keep drivers moving on the road, several strategies are in the works.

Glenn Harbeck is Wilmington's Director of Planning, Development and Transportation.

He said more "mixed use" projects, with shopping, offices and dining, are being planned for the city and those reduce the time and distance drivers have to travel, which decreases congestion.

The city also plans to build more bike and pedestrian pathways. He said more residents have expressed interest in being able to walk and bike around town.

Harbeck also said city traffic engineers are continually tweaking traffic signals to help things run more smoothly.

As far as the future of a new bridge over the Cape Fear River, Harbeck said, "That has been a long, an agonizingly long process. We're still two years away from having a selected route across the river. I've heard if we're to try to a fixed span bridge south of the State Ports, where you have to go up pretty high and the river is a lot wider, you're looking at, I've seen numbers of $1.2 billion."

A sister bridge to the CFMB would cost somewhere around $500 million.

"Does Wilmington have the political leverage and clout to command that kind of attention?" Harbeck asked. "That's a good question."

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