WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As the Cape Fear region is expected to continue experiencing tremendous growth, local officials are looking at what can be done to best accommodate the infrastructure needs that will go along with it.
The Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) is in the middle of its federally-mandated strategic planning process and presented its findings on potential new funding sources to Wilmington City Council at the council’s Monday agenda briefing.
With members from New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties and the municipalities therein, WMPO helps with a myriad of transportation and transit issues.
To fulfill its federal requirements, WMPO is currently working on the Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 plan, which will replace the previous strategic plan set to expire in 2020.
As part of that planning process, WMPO identifies projects and initiatives to improve transportation within its 494-square-mile area — and how to pay for them.
The federal government requires bodies like WMPO to address any funding disparities between the listed project goals and the expected funding over the next 25 years.
When WMPO compares those two metrics, if the region attempts all of the projects on the table with the known funding resources, there is a shortage of roughly $7.2 billion.
Not all of those projects will ultimately come to fruition, and the counties and municipalities are not expected to independently come up with every penny, explained senior transportation planner Abby Lorenzo.
However, the gap is wide, and filling it will not only pay for projects but will put the region in a better financial position to lobby for grants and other state and federal funding.
The options to bring in more money range from a .25-cent sales tax increase to tolling on the currently-tabled Cape Fear Crossing bridge.
Wilmington City Council member and WMPO board member Charlie Rivenbark said while some of those options may be unpopular, it’s important to be forward-thinking.
“It’s coming at us like a freight train, and we have to be ready, and we have to have the funding sources in place,” he said.
Fellow WMPO and City Council member Neil Anderson noted during the discussion that with New Hanover County’s recent vote to pull funding from WAVE Transit, this is likely to be a difficult conversation, as well as a major topic of the 2020 local election cycle.
Rivenbark said he also recognizes that the discussions will be uncomfortable, as will be the work necessary to make the future of transportation happen.
“Change comes hard, and there’s going to be some teeth-gnashing and some heartburn, but when it’s all said and done ... you’re going to see orange barrels everywhere for the next 10, 15, 20 years, but at the end of the day, we’re gonna be much better off for it,” he said.