North Carolina State Ports Authority officials aim to relocate one of its main entrances in Wilmington less than a mile north – a proposed $20 million move designed to improve efficiency and reduce bottlenecking of vehicles blocked by rail traffic.
In February, the Port of Wilmington’s new South Gate Container Complex opened, providing container-carrying truckers with a new and improved onboarding system intended to further reduce turnaround times. But since that system came online, the new reconfiguration diverted an additional 1,000 trucks to the port’s North Gate entrance, according to environmental documents the ports authority submitted to the state last month.
This North Gate entrance primarily serves non-containerized truck traffic (general cargo) and is open weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., whereas the South Gate provides 24-hour access and accommodates container trucks, according to ports spokesperson Christina Hallingse.
Located at 1870 Burnett Blvd., the current North Gate entrance is just outside the Wilmington Terminal Railroad, a 17-mile rail line owned by Genesee & Wyoming Inc. that provides connectivity to the port and to a CSX interchange.
Trains pass the crossing at Myers Street – blocking the North Gate entrance – an estimated 30 times daily, according to the documents. Each train movement blocks the port driveway an estimated 80 minutes, causing a vehicular backup on Myers Street, Burnette Boulevard and even South Front Street. The ports authority estimates more than 720,000 crossings take place annually.
To divert congestion away from the current bottlenecking zone, which crosses a residential area, the ports authority hopes to move the entrance about two-thirds of a mile north to an industrially zoned area. The new entrance is proposed to be located at Greenfield Street and South Front Street, according to Hallingse. This is across the street from the New Anthem Beer Project, and near the former Optimist Park –property the ports authority picked up from the city of Wilmington in February.
At Greenfield Street, the only current rail traffic is the once-daily inbound and outbound trains, according to Hallingse.
The environmental documents mark the initial preliminary notice before the project is further studied, pending stakeholder input. Completing a full environmental impact study will take an estimated 12-18 months, Hallingse said, while noting the ports authority is in the “very early stages of planning and development” to determine the project’s feasibility.
As proposed, the preliminary relocation would complement long-planned road improvement projects in the area, according to Hallingse.
In March, ports authority director of real estate and planning Stephanie Ayers asked the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) Board of Directors to advocate for funding for two road projects in their legislative agenda. One of the projects would widen over 1 mile of Carolina Beach Road between Burnett Boulevard and Shipyard Boulevard, creating a four-lane highway divided by a median. The other project involves widening South Front Street from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to Burnett Boulevard.
Both projects are intended to streamline port-related traffic; 99% of all trucks that serve the Port of Wilmington use this route to enter the premises, Ayers told the board.
The South Front Street widening was initially intended to be funded in 2021, but programming challenges at the N.C. Department of Transportation delayed the funding until 2029, WMPO director Mike Kozlosky told Ayers. “The Ports anticipate that something must be done sooner rather than later,” Kozlosky told the board, according to the meeting minutes.
Because road improvements can’t be financed by the ports, ports personnel are reliant on transportation partners to advocate for these projects to obtain funding.
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