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State Transportation Rankings Give Green Light To CSX Project, Yellow Light To Bypass

By Jenny Callison, posted Apr 20, 2016
What’s next for the Hampstead Bypass and CSX Railroad’s proposed intermodal terminal in North Carolina, now that the N.C. Department of Transportation has completed the project scoring for state-level projects?

In the case of the bypass, it's a case of "try, try again."

When the Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) statewide mobility rankings came out last week, Pender County officials learned that the bypass, designed to relieve congestion along U.S. 17 between the U.S. 17 bypass in New Hanover County and Sloop Point Loop Road north of Hampstead, did not make the list of projects to be funded.

At the statewide mobility tier, priority decisions are made from data only, officials said.

Chad Kimes, district construction engineer for NCDOT in Wilmington, said last week that the project still has a chance for funding within the STI, in either the regional or the division categories.

For those lower-level tiers, the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and NCDOT are able to assign points to area projects, Kimes explained. The Hampstead Bypass falls within the area of the MPO’s authority.
 
“We have through June 30 to assign points for the region and through Nov. 1 to assign points in the division,” he said.

Earlier this week, Wilmington MPO executive director Mike Kozlosky said the organization’s project prioritization process was underway and had the MPO had assigned 100 points - the maximum possible - to the Hampstead Bypass.

“[The bypass] is definitely important for mobility and safety and moving traffic throughout the region,” Kozlosky said.

In a post on his website last week, Rep. Chris Millis (R-Pender) commented on the project's funding status.

"I am pleased to report that after legislative efforts to include seasonal/peak traffic impacts (tourism), and broader inputs concerning military/freight impacts, that the Hampstead Bypass has scored much higher, and is in a better position than before to see funding in the final State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP)," Millis wrote.

"While other projects across the state remain ahead of the Hwy. 17 Hampstead Bypass from a state funding level, the remaining steps in the three-step process incorporate regional and divisional input to determine the final project list come winter of 2016," he continued. "The last two steps of scoring will be particularly important. The Wilmington MPO and the Division will have an opportunity to apply additional points to the project, with the intent that the Bypass will make the final list this winter."

For the intermodal logistics hub, called the Carolina Connector or CCX, the STI ranking was cause for guarded optimism among those favoring the project.

The STI included $100 million for CCX, which CSX had proposed to locate in Johnston County. When it announced plans for the facility, the rail company said that it would provide about $150 million for the $272 million project, but would expect North Carolina to provide another $100 million.

“CSX is pleased to learn the Carolina Connector (CCX), a critical infrastructure project, was recommended for Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) program funding,” CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said in an email Tuesday. “We applaud the State, legislature and NCDOT for their vision in creating this innovative, merit-driven infrastructure investment program to help attract transformative projects like CCX to N.C.
 
“It is our understanding that CCX received the highest score of any infrastructure project under consideration – which affirms the many public benefits of the project – including over 1,500 jobs, increased economic competitiveness for current and prospective N.C. businesses, reducing emissions, relieving traffic congestion and improving road safety,” Seay continued. “CSX is committed to this critical infrastructure project and working with stakeholders to move the project forward. In that spirit, CSX continues to evaluate potential sites for CCX.”

Even with state funding looking promising, CCX could still sputter. While state and Johnston County officials have come out in support of the project, some owners of land selected for the site have objected to selling their property to the rail company.

New Hanover County projects earmarked for STI funding at the statewide level include conversion of the at-grade intersection of South College Road and Oleander to a single point urban interchange, an interchange in which the arterial and ramp entrances and exits are controlled by a single traffic signal. The project is estimated to cost $55.3 million.

Another major project included on the statewide mobility list is conversion of the intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Eastwood Road from an at-grade intersection to an interchange. The NCDOT cost is estimated at $33.8 million.

Turn lane improvements are also slated for several other intersections, including that at Shipyard Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road, at an estimated cost of nearly $8.2 million.
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