Area transportation leaders say a plan by Amtrak to connect passenger rail service further across the state to Wilmington would add a significant multimodal component to the region.
While not involved in any discussions with Amtrak about its strategic vision, Mike Kozlosky, executive director of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), said the re-establishment of a passenger rail service is within the organization's future plans and vision.
President Joe Biden announced a plan recently to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, including about $80 billion for Amtrak, which has in its 2035 Vision plan
to connect passenger rail to Wilmington.
"The re-establishment of passenger rail service would fulfill the vision for the [multimodal] transportation center. Based on my discussion with NCDOT, this effort is consistent with the state’s rail plan and it is also consistent with the desires of the MPO Board," Kozlosky said in an email. "The devil will be in the details but we are excited and very supportive of the idea for re-establishment of this service."
Transportation projects that could benefit from the establishment of a passenger rail service by Amtrak include the Wilmington Multimodal Transportation Center, or Padgett Station, which opened at 520 N. Third St. in 2020.
"NCDOT (with funding assistance from the City) has acquired the dirt for Multi-modal Transportation Center ...The MPO is currently working to rehabilitate and re-use the former Thomas Grocery Building for dedicated office space," Kozlosky said. "The area between 3rd/4th/Campbell and Hanover Streets is owned by NCDOT and will house the future passenger rail station to be constructed at a later date."
A passenger rail would increase access, connectivity and opportunity in the region, said Marie Parker, executive director of the WAVE Transit.
Last year, the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, operating as WAVE Transit, completed Padgett Station, part of an overall multimodal transportation center project. The facility is being operated by WAVE for its bus routes from that station.
With Amtrak, WAVE already works with Amtrak bus service out of its bus slip and passenger facilities at WAVE's Forden Station, she said.
Greyhound Lines, however, is currently the only public, ground transportation option available for travel between cities, she added. A commuter rail line would provide an alternative and increased access to locations and designations outside of the Cape Fear region, she said.
"Padgett Station, the Authority’s downtown transfer station, is the first facility constructed and one component of the overall Wilmington Multimodal Transportation Center (WMMTC)," Parker said. "The long-term vision for the WMMTC is to serve as a centralized hub to accommodate all, alternative modes of transportation, including bus, passenger rail, bike, walking, etc. Padgett Station. Improvements to the rail cut, as illustrated in the Wilmington Rail Trail Master Plan, are underway. Padgett Station is adjacent to the rail cut terminus."
N.C. Department of Transportation officials said they will be following the Biden Administration's proposal as it makes its way through Congress.
“We appreciate that President Biden recognizes the great importance of transportation infrastructure in regard to getting people access to jobs, health care and educational opportunities. That includes not only maintaining what is already here, but also expanding the system and welcoming new innovations,” said Jason Orthner, director of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, in an email. “Passenger rail is part of that system and is an effective way of moving people between rural and urban communities."