WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - North Brunswick High School’s gymnasium was nearly filled with Brunswick County residents, North Carolina Department of Transportation employees and local law enforcement for the second of two open house/public hearing meetings about a proposed NCDOT project.
The fire marshal was even making the rounds to ensure emergency exits weren't blocked.
Around 200 people showed up for the first meeting Monday at Hoggard High School in Wilmington, but around 650 came out for Tuesday's event, which makes sense considering people living in Brunswick County stand to be most affected by potential bridge construction.
According to the DOT, the Cape Fear Crossing is a 9.5-mile proposed road and bridge over the Cape Fear River that would improve traffic flow and enhance freight movements from US 17 and I-140 in Brunswick County to US 421 near the Port of Wilmington.
Brunswick Forest resident Rhonda Florian showed up with several homemade anti-bridge signs and said construction for the project will uproot her life, and the lives others like her.
“I’m here because I don’t want to lose my home. I don’t want to lose my neighborhood. I don’t want to lose my town,” Florian said. “When I read there would be 180 homes destroyed by this plan, and 76 businesses destroyed by this plan, I thought, ‘My Lord, if a hurricane did that, or a tornado or an earthquake did that in one town, the governor would give a state of emergency.’ FEMA would come, the Red Cross, everybody but the city of Wilmington and the state of North Carolina can do this on purpose to the residents of Leland. They’re going to purposely wipe out $60-70 million of real estate.
"While we can measure that in dollars, we cannot measure the human tragedy and suffering that would come from that.”
Both in packets of information handed out Tuesday night and in large, detailed maps on display in North Brunswick High’s gym, the DOT outlined six alternatives for the project, each proposing different improvements and possible locations. All six alternatives include a new bridge crossing the Cape Fear River.
Following a 90-minute open house period when people could peruse the maps and ask DOT staffers questions, Jamille Robbins, NCDOT’s public involvement, community studies and visualization group leader, gave a presentation on the Cape Fear Crossing project, followed by the public comment period.
“Public comment is a critical component in that decision-making process,” Robbins said. “It’s not the only factor. It’s an important factor, but we also have to balance that against good, sound engineering criteria, traffic service, cost, impacts to both the natural and human environments, and balance all that out. And factor in state and federal regulations to make sure all are in compliance and through that balancing act, make the preferred alternative.”
Federal funds are expected to pay for 80 percent of the project and 20 percent should come from the state but Robbins said tolling is also being considered. The estimated cost is between $620 and $995 million.
Public comments will be accepted until May 16, and DOT hopes to have a preferred alternative selected by this summer.
Right-of-way acquisition and construction are not expected to begin until 2021.