WMPO Opts Against Intersection Improvement Project Swap

By Johanna F. Still, posted Feb 23, 2023
At its board meeting Monday, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization opted against a project swap it had considered involving two major intersections in Wilmington. 

The two areas under consideration for the swap were the Military Cutoff and Eastwood Road intersection, which is due for major upgrades as a slew of commercial development awaits, and the intersection of College Road and Oleander Drive. 

Last fall, the WMPO board had asked the N.C. Department of Transportation about the possibility of swapping the projects in the current State Transportation Improvement Plan, which is the statewide mechanism by which projects get funded and planned. The WMPO was considering the possibility of prioritizing the College-Oleander interchange over the Military Cutoff-Eastwood overpass project. 

Transportation work on the Military Cutoff-Eastwood interchange is occurring in two separate projects: First, the Drysdale Drive Extension, which involves extending the road from the intersection at Landfall Center to wrap behind the Eastport neighborhood to reach Eastwood Road. 

This portion of the work is already underway, coinciding with the development of a major mixed-use development, Center Point, which broke ground in August. The more than $250 million development is expected to welcome its first commercial tenants by 2024. Work on the Drysdale Drive Extension began in the winter of 2022 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2024, according to an NCDOT spokesperson. 

The second piece of the interchange improvements involves a project that would create an overpass on Eastwood Road that would cross Military Cutoff and alleviate traffic. Right-of-way work is slated to begin this year and construction will begin in 2025, per the current STIP, which includes project funding of $66.4 million. 

The board was considering the swap to potentially give traffic time to adjust to new patterns following the completion of the Dysdale Drive Extension before moving ahead with the overpass on the current timeline. NCDOT Division 3 engineer Chad Kimes told the board in August that swaps had never been done before in the STIP and that it would be a huge change. The Oleander-College project had been on hold after reaching the design stage, he said at the time. 

“Quite honestly, what they had plans to do at Oleander and College were going to be woefully inadequate to make that intersection improve at all,” WMPO vice chair Deb Hays said Thursday. 

Monday, the board received an update on traffic conditions at the Military Cutoff-Eastwood intersection. In a December 2022 analysis, NCDOT rated the intersection at an “E,” an unacceptable level of service. Even with the Drysdale Drive Extension in place, the intersection would remain at the same unacceptable level of service, an NCDOT engineer shared in a January update with WMPO. Though this portion of the project would improve the intersection, Hays said the length of time the improvement would last is shorter than NCDOT had initially anticipated. 

Hays said that while the board did engage in the thought exercise of prioritizing the Oleander-College intersection over the Military Cutoff-Eastwood project, it recognized the need for the overpass. 

“We’re not going to give up something of that caliber to get a Band-Aid at Oleander and College,” she said.

At next month's WMPO meeting, Hays said the board plans to ask NCDOT to redesign its plans for Oleander Drive and College Road.

Current plans call for widening Parkway Drive to reduce traffic at the intersection, along with a new signal at Parkway Drive and College Road. The project would also widen College Road to provide three northbound and southbound lands through the intersection, according to an NCDOT spokesperson. "The current College and Oleander left turns will be rerouted to Parkway Drive and Parkway Drive will be widened to accommodate these traffic volumes," the spokesperson said of the plans. 

As it stands in the current STIP, improvements to the Oleander-College intersection remain funded for the preliminary engineering phase only, at $37.7 million. 

“That’s the worst intersection in the state,” Hays said. “When was the last time we did anything at the intersection of College and Oleander?”

About 43,000 vehicles cross the intersection on an average daily basis, according to a 2021 NCDOT estimate, and 39,000 vehicles cross daily at Military Cutoff Road. 
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