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Funding Issues Push Out Area Road Project Timelines

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Aug 9, 2019
More than a dozen pending road projects in the tri-county area are facing delays from their original schedules because of funding issues at the state level.

The N.C. Department of Transportation released its updated draft of the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) Prioritization 5.0 plan this week, with some changes from the draft released in January.

Among the reasoning for the changes include the unanticipated impacts that weather-related events and MAP Act settlements have had on NCDOT's fund balance.

Projects within the new draft STIP 5.0 are part of a long-range plan for funding and construction for the 2020-29 cycle. The plan is updated every two years.

“Projects already under contract are moving forward as scheduled, and 109 of the Division 3 projects on the overall STIP list are also still a go as scheduled,” said Steve Abbott, spokesman for NCDOT, in an email Friday.

NCDOT's Division 3 includes New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

There are, however, 28 potential delays of the more than 130 Division 3 projects, he said, with 16 delayed projects in the tri-county area.

In New Hanover County, 10 projects are facing scheduling changes from the original draft plan to assist in balancing NCDOT funds from the unanticipated costs.

Those include the construction of interchanges at College Road and Oleander Drive (delayed from fiscal year 2024-25 to FY 2025-26), Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and College Road (delayed from FY 2023-24 to FY 2025-26) and Eastwood and Military Cutoff roads (delayed from FY 2021-22 to FY 2022-23). Find the complete list of area projects here.

However, a part of the Eastwood-Military Cutoff construction project, the future extension of Drysdale Drive, is still on schedule and planned to go out for bid in early 2020, Chad Kimes, deputy division engineer with NCDOT Division 3, said Friday. That road project is key for the upcoming $250 million mixed-use development CenterPoint and the construction of the Eastwood and MIlitary Cutoff roads interchange.

Another project, shared between New Hanover and Pender counties, that is subject to a schedule change is a section of the Hampstead Bypass. Construction of the section that will connect the U.S. 17 Wilmington Bypass to N.C. 210 has been pushed back from FY 2020-21 to FY 2022-23.

Although this portion of the Hampstead Bypass project was changed in the draft STIP, the entire two-part highway construction project as a whole remains on schedule for a full opening of the bypass in 2025, Kimes said.

The main reasons for the delays, which impact projects in counties across the state, are a series of unplanned financial hits, the largest being the weather, said Abbott.

NCDOT has faced an average hit of $66 million a year in storm recovery – including hurricanes, snow events, rockslides and flooding – between the years 2004 and 2016, Abbott said. Since 2017, NCDOT has spent more than $220 million a year as a result of additional weather-related impacts, he added.

Unanticipated hurricane costs have totaled $398 million from July 1, 2016, up to Monday, according to numbers released this week by NCDOT.

It’s all money NCDOT “didn’t plan or expect to spend,” Abbott said.

“So like a household budget when you have an unexpected major financial hit, like needing a new roof or replacing a furnace/AC unit, the money has to be taken from somewhere else in your budget. Hence the schedule changes for some projects,” Abbot said.

In addition, NCDOT has been hit with $290 million in Map Act settlements as of July 20, according to NCDOT.

Some NCDOT projects, however, had been on an accelerated schedule, Abbott said.

“The very aggressive project schedule we have had the past few years (starting in 2017) in which we accelerated hundreds of projects statewide is being adjusted," Abbott said. "In many cases across the state, the projects with schedule adjustments between the initial draft STIP in January and what was released this week are still on a schedule ahead of or for the same time they were in the 2015 STIP.”

“Basically, we sped things up significantly a few years ago, and now we are returning to 'normal,' which is the pace we had before the acceleration,” Abbott said.

An accelerated project in Division 3 was the Hampstead Bypass, Kimes said, adding that its construction is one of the most high-priority projects in the division.

The STIP 5.0 is slated to go before the NCDOT board for adoption in September. The draft STIP 5.0 is open for public comment.

"This gives all of us time to review this draft STIP... and when the board goes back in September, it will go back to be finalized," Kimes said.
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