Projects across the Cape Fear on hold as DOT wrestles with revenue issues

Projects across the Cape Fear on hold

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - While Wilmington drivers might be enjoying the lack of traffic during the stay at home order, the lack of travel has created a dire situation for the NC DOT.

The state department of transportation brings in most of their revenue from fuel taxes, highway use taxes and DMV fees. Now that people are staying at home due to the pandemic, the agency’s cash reserves are depleted and they’re below their legally mandated cash floor. The drop in revenue due to COVID-19 will result in more than $300 million in lost revenue for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. An additional shortfall of more than $370 million is projected for FY21, according to the DOT.

The DOT has suspended many of their programs, laid off employees and frozen many road projects. State law prevents the department from entering into new agreements until they have more cash on hand.

Right now, the NCDOT can continue working on active projects, maintain their infrastructure, operate DMV functions and respond to emergency situations. Leaders say work will continue on Military Cutoff project because construction was already underway.

While the DOT sits below their cash floor, they cannot negotiate right of way purchases on projects not underway, like the project planned for the intersection of Carolina Beach Road, Burnett Boulevard and Front Street. Proposals to improve Market Street, College, and right of way work on the Hampstead Bypass are also now at a standstill.

Carolina Beach Road Right of Way Project

The Dubliner and Performance Cycles are two businesses the DOT planned to buy up to make room for the expansion of that intersection. They’ve been back and forth with the DOT for years now discussing a timeline for the right of way project and how much longer they would be able to stay in their buildings.

Just last week, the owner of the Dubliner got word from the NC DOT that the Carolina Beach Road project was suspended indefinitely, and could be picked up in three to five years. The manager of the bar says they were relieved to hear the news; for the last several years, they didn’t know how much longer they could in their building.

“Its exciting. We didn’t want to close to begin with. Knowing we can actually stay open and keep the community we’ve built over the last 20 years together… its great," said manager Rob Potts. "For the DOT to back out during the COVID thing, it was a bit of good news during a time of nothing but bad news,” said Potts.

While Potts says hes happy to be able to go to work again when the pandemic is over, he also admits its tough knowing the project will be picked up again down the road. Its a sentiment he shares with his neighbor, who owns Performance Cycles just a few feet away from the Dubliner’s patio.

“Its kinda tough because I’d like to move on and eventually if we are going to have to do something, it would be nice to move on or be able to know we can invest in our location and make it better to serve our customers,” said Joseph Petersen of Performance Cycles.

As it stands, both businesses plan on staying open until the DOT shuts their doors.

An uncertain future of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge

A feasibility study for the future of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge was just completed before the fallout from the pandemic came into play

The study is a high level look at what it would actually take to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. It was initially put in back in 1969. In 2019, researchers estimated more than 60,000 cars crossed the bridge a day; estimates in the study project more than 80,000 cars a day would use the bridge by 2045.

There’s four different design options with varying costs. All of the options extend the bridge to be 3 lanes in each direction and would allow traffic to move faster and make changes to ramps to get on the bridge.

The four options do have different heights and one even has a railroad component.

"The main purpose is to get some feasible options with some kind of cost so we know how to go after funding. We have no preference at this point, just a matter of looking at potential impacts and how do we replace the bridge and what kind of cost,” said DOT division three engineer Chad Kimes.

The project is in the process of being submitted to the DOT. Its about a two year process to see what proposals gets picked up and funded by the DOT.

Leaders say the coronavirus will affect how projects get funded in the future, but they aren’t sure to what degree the lost revenue will change the process.

“I think the main thing is from the COVID- 19 and the cash balance... we had a lot of work coming to this region. We’re making all the effort we can.. it might be temporarily suspended but we will get back to work again," said DOT division three engineer Chad Kimes. “We’re going to make every effort to make the existing roadways safe and operational.”

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