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ILM Requests Economic Development Funding To Widen 23rd Street

By Emma Dill, posted May 1, 2024
An aerial photo shows recent infrastructure investments at Wilmington International Airport to accommodate passenger growth. Now, airport officials are looking to widen 23rd Street, a primary access point to Airport Boulevard. (File photo)
Wilmington International Airport is requesting economic development funding from state transportation officials to help pay for the widening of 23rd Street – the roadway that provides travelers with primary access to and from the airport.

Officials say widening the street will help improve traffic flow into the airport, align with other ongoing capital improvements, and accommodate future economic growth in the area. The airport has committed $1 million toward the project and is asking the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to provide additional funding through its economic development program.

The proposed project would widen the currently two-lane 23rd Street to four lanes and add a bike lane and sidewalks to the stretch between Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Airport Boulevard.

Discussions about widening 23rd Street arose in recent years as ILM staff worked on the airport’s vision plan, ILM spokesperson Erin McNally wrote in an email to the Business Journal. The planning process prompted staff to look at investments in roadways on airport property and 23rd Street, the primary point of entry to Airport Boulevard.

The project is also identified in the Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, a long-range plan the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) adopted in 2020.

NCDOT completed a feasibility study on the proposed road widening, and the project has been submitted by the WMPO for consideration as part of Prioritization 7.0, a process that helps determine when projects receive funding from NCDOT.

The WMPO is set to discuss the 23rd Street widening project on Wednesday, according to the board’s agenda.  

In late March, Wilmington International Airport Director Jeff Bourk submitted a formal request for economic development program funding for the project to NCDOT Division 3 Engineer Chad Kimes, according to a letter included in the WMPO’s agenda packet.

“Primary access to ILM today is via a single northbound lane of 23rd Street south of Airport Boulevard,” Bourk wrote. “The proposed project would add a dedicated turn lane and overhead signage to eliminate current travel delays, improve driver wayfinding and accommodate imminent and future economic growth.”

An NCDOT Division of Aviation study from 2022 found that ILM contributes $2.5 billion in economic impact and supports 13,550 jobs in the region, including 1,252 jobs that can be directly attributed to the airport.

Since 2022, the airport has signed nearly 164 acres of “new lease area” with 11 tenants in various stages of development, officials said. That includes a bank, corporate aircraft hangars, a hotel and restaurant, an entertainment complex and three cold storage facilities, among other leases. These committed projects are expected to create 691 new jobs, according to the WMPO meeting agenda.

NCDOT evaluates projects for economic development funding on a “first come, first serve basis,” according to NCDOT spokesperson Lauren Haviland. Up to $10 million can be allocated per project, depending on the availability of funds within the division, the project’s size and its contributions to new jobs in the area, Haviland wrote in an email to the Business Journal.

With the $1 million commitment from ILM, NCDOT officials are working to determine the amount of additional funding available, according to Haviland. The local planning organization, which in Wilmington is the WMPO, must first review and approve any revisions to the local State Transportation Improvement Plan for that funding to be made available.

Once the additional funding and any STIP changes are determined, the items will go before the state transportation board for final approval, Haviland wrote. Any economic development funding would come from NCDOT’s Division Needs Tier, according to the board’s agenda. 

If the 23rd Street widening receives economic development funds, WMPO staff recommend delaying other projects, including the Kerr Avenue Extension and the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and College Road interchange, to construct the project.

The WMPO board is slated to discuss the project’s schedule and funding options at its meeting on Wednesday at 3 p.m. The meeting will be held in the sixth-floor conference room at 320 Chestnut St.
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