The Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization recently approved a resolution supporting two alternatives in the N.C. Department of Transportation’s study on a new bridge over the Cape Fear River.
The Cape Fear Crossing project includes 12 alternative routes that provides upgrades to the current crossing of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. A new bridge crossing between the Wilmington area and Brunswick County has been the subject of talks among area organizations on both sides of the river for several years.
The NCDOT has come up with several different alternatives
; two for upgrades to existing U.S. 17; four alternatives for a new location; and six hybrid alternatives that require a new location or upgrading existing locations.
The WMPO resolution supports two alternative routes that take the bridge south, near the Port of Wilmington. According to the NCDOT, the alternatives begin where Interstate 140 ends on U.S. 17, avoiding the Snee Farm or Stoney Creek subdivisions, travel south of Brunswick Forest and cross the Cape Fear River, connecting to either Independence or Shipyard boulevards.
The resolution was drafted at an April 26 meeting, according to WMPO Executive Director Mike Kozlosky, who opened discussion for the item marked on the consent agenda for the Transportation Advisory Committee’s May 31 meeting.
The N.C. Ports requested to add language to the resolution, he said. The language in the resolution supports a request for a height clearance requirement for any southern alignment at 215 feet.
The height requirement is to "accommodate present or future shipping requirements," the resolution states.
According to the resolution, the “Cape Fear Crossing project’s purpose and need includes improvements to traffic flow and enhanced freight movements beginning in the vicinity of U.S. 17 and the future Interstate 140 in Brunswick County across the Cape Fear River to U.S. 421 near the Port of Wilmington in New Hanover County.”
The height requested in the resolution mirrors another project on the East Coast: The Bayonne Bridge, which crosses the Kill Van Kull, connecting Bayonne, New Jersey, with Staten Island, New York. The project, called “Raise the Roadway,” is raising the existing roadway to a height of 215 feet for navigational clearance of new generation containerships traveling to some of the largest ports on the nation’s East Coast, according to the project website
Jay McInnis, project engineer with the NCDOT, said the bridge alternatives under study are designed with a 187-foot vertical clearance under the bridge, based on looking at the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina.
In comparison, the Cape Fear Memorial bridge has a 65-foot vertical clearance when closed and a 135-foot vertical clearance when open, according to the NCDOT. McInnis added that the alternative routes both near city limits and the port are fixed models, and not a drawbridge like the Cape Fear Memorial.
When asked about the height clearance restriction in the resolution, McInnis said the NCDOT will be looking into the height restriction further.
“It will add costs to the bridge and we’ll have to look at where it effects the bridge touching down,” he said.
The WMPO's resolution is not the final authority on the alignment of the project or its design. The NCDOT is scheduled to make a final decision on the alignment in summer 2019. While studies for the project are funded, right-of-way acquisition and construction -- at a projected cost of about $1.15 billion -- are not funded.