WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Engineers are working on plans to replace one of the Cape Fear region’s most famous icons.
The NC DOT released a feasibility study this spring outlining four potential options to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. The bridge has been in place since 1969. Over the years, leaders have spent millions of dollars on maintaining and repairing it. Documents from the DOT state the bridge is functionally obsolete and must be repaired.
“The biggest issue with keeping the existing bridge is the parts. We just don’t have a ‘bridge store’ we can get parts for anymore those are specially fabricated parts on that bridge. The cost of maintenance are going to exceed the cost of replacement here soon,” said NC DOT engineer Chad Kimes.
Tuesday, the Historic Wilmington Foundation hosted a zoom meeting to hear the DOT’s presentation and discuss impacts from the project. Kimes gave an update on the DOT’s financial status, talked through the four potential bridge options and answered questions from the community.
All four bridge options would include six traffic lanes and changes to the ramps at south front street. Each option also includes a separated path for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Two bridge options move up and down to allow for boat traffic while two would be stationary. The options have varying heights, and one even includes a railroad component.
OPTION 1: Fixed structure with 65-foot vertical clearance, $196.6 million
OPTION 2: Fixed structure with 135-foot vertical clearance, $245.7 million
OPTION 3: Movable span with 65-foot vertical clearance, $487.7 million
OPTION 4: Movable span with 65-foot vertical clearance and railroad component, $608.7 million
Kimes says officials have worked hard to avoid impacts to Wilmington’s historic district.
While there’s not expected to be any direct impacts to the local historic district or archaeological resources, the feasibility study shows five businesses and two homes on the Wilmington side of the bridge would fall in the project’s right of way.
While many properties on the displacement list on the Brunswick County side are vacant with wetlands, the properties on the New Hanover County side are classified as being in low income communities. The project also has environmental impacts to the river, the shoreline and the Eagle Island Wetlands.
People in the meeting were not happy to hear some properties were in jeopardy. One woman in the meeting said her home was in the path of all four options and the DOT confirmed they’ve already begun working with Waterline Brewing, a business that is also in the footprint of all four bridge options.
Kimes explained most people are willing to work with the agency and enacting eminent domain is a step they use only as a last resort.
“Our right of way folks goes out and talks to waterline property owners. They go out there and do an appraised value of the property make the offer to the property, offer relocation assistance and if they agree we acquire that property. If they don’t agree they go through the condemnation process which is eminent domain. We hope it doesn’t go that route sometimes it does though,” added Kimes.
According to the DOT, it will likely be several years before we see a completed bridge. The project moves on to the prioritization process to fight for the next cycle of funding in May 2022 before it progresses to the merger stage where people will pick which option to move forward with.