City Council set to approve Wilmington Rail Trail master plan

City Council to vote on Wilmington Rail Trail

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Plans are moving forward with the idea to revitalize the old railroad corridor in Downtown Wilmington between 3rd Street and McRae Street. The project is dubbed the Wilmington Rail Trail - and it would bring passenger rail service, along with a new multiuse path to Downtown.

It’s an idea that has been in the works for some time now, but started gaining traction early last year.

“In January 2020, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) and the Friends of the Wilmington Rail Trail kicked off the development of a multi-modal master plan for the downtown rail corridor between 3rd Street and McRae Street. The effort was funded by the WMPO’s Direct Attributable funding and a donation from the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County. The plan addresses the feasibility for use of the corridor by bicycles, pedestrians, and future passenger rail service,” according to the City of Wilmington.

Several groups have contributed to the project and the master plan was guided by members of WMPO, the City of Wilmington, NCDOT, members of the Friends of the Wilmington Rail Trail, the Arts Council, and citizen advocates for the project.

“We believe that this project checks off all of the boxes- not only will we be able to create a linear park within our inner city that is a point of access for many residents that live on the Northside of Wilmington but also to provide some recreational and cultural accession as well,” said Rhonda Bellamy, Founding executive director of the Arts council of Wilmington

After the closing of the Atlantic Coast Line, the Northside of Wilmington was hit hard as people moved from the city and vacant buildings began littering the area - but all is not lost - the neighborhood is now seeing a comeback.

“The Northside neighborhood has since seen tremendous growth and redevelopment. This activity was spurred on by the adoption of a comprehensive Northside community plan in 2003. Additionally, economic growth occurred with the establishment of various business and attractions along the waterfront. The Northside neighborhood has also established itself as an arts destination with the redevelopment of the Brooklyn Arts Center,” according to the plan.

Goals for the project include:

  • Connect Wilmington Northside neighborhood to Downtown, area amenities, and other parts of Wilmington
  • Create a unique space for art, exercise, and community engagement
  • Contribute to and foster sustainable, arts-driven economic development
  • Honor and celebrate the local history and culture

Nearly 5,000 people live within a 1/2 mile of the trail and 19% of them do not have access to a car. There are also nearly 9,000 jobs available within 1/2 a mile of the corridor, according to the plan.

It’s no small feat and in the end, the plan hopes to bring passenger rail service to the now defunct railroad.

“The Wilmington Rail Trail corridor should unfold in a three phase process. Phase 1 will consist of preparing the corridor for development by creating a drainage system and leveling the land. Also included in Phase 1 is the construction of the trail for use by the public. Phase 2 would implement the protective fencing of the trail and incorporate the public art and amenities that are laid out further in this chapter. The implementation of the fence would need to be coordinated with NCDOT to explore the fencing options as they can be incorporated into the trail as a safety precaution that is also sculptural and aesthetic in nature. The final phase is the build-out of the passenger rail service, completing the rail component of the multimodal corridor,” according to the plan.

City Council will vote on the master plan on Tuesday, but it’s just the first step out of many that will need to happen for the project to become a reality.

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