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‘There’s no risk:’ Brunswick commissioners say they’ll consider toll bridge proposal

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 4:20 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Brunswick County Board of Commissioners learned more about a proposal to build a toll bridge between Wilmington and Brunswick County at a special meeting Wednesday, but some questions are still unanswered.

“The unsolicited proposal is considered confidential,” said Chad Kimes, an engineer for NCDOT’s district three. “The main thing to come from this — it still has to have an open, transparent and competitive bidding process.”

Who is behind the proposal, how much the toll would be and if it could increase are all unknown at this time, but some leaders feel they know how this could go.

“I’ll answer Commissioner Sykes’s question: Oh, yeah, the tolls will go up,” said Commissioner Mike Forte.

The plan has been met with overwhelming concern with leaders and residents on both sides of the river. Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman said it would be a significant hardship for people that use the bridge every day, a sentiment that some leaders in New Hanover County share as well.

After the initial proposal announcement, Chairman Randy Thompson said the replacement bridge must improve, not impede the county’s connection to Wilmington--but with few viable options on the table, commissioners are open to the idea of a toll bridge. After asking their own questions, commissioners came up with some of their own ideas, including a toll bridge that would stop charging tolls once the bridge was paid for.

“I think we owe it to the people to explore this honestly and sincerely and based on facts, not just a knee-jerk reaction that everybody including myself has to the idea of a toll bridge,” said Commissioner Williams. “This bridge is outliving its lifespan and it’s going to have to be replaced so we need to explore all available options to do it.”

There are still plenty of concerns about what a toll would mean for people on either side of the river. One Brunswick County neighbor said a toll would put a burden on his schedule, making getting to the doctor’s office or visiting loved ones across the river more difficult. Still, commissioners say considering the idea won’t hurt.

“I am game for exploring this possibility because there’s no risk,” said Forte. “I think it would be wise of us to explore this possibility and see what they come up with.”

“[The bridge is] getting increasingly old,” said Williams. “It’s a moving-span bridge, which means it’s got parts to maintain. We’re going to have to replace it at some point for the safety and wellbeing of the citizens. It’s something we need to have on our radar and we need to explore every option we have at our disposal.”

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