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NCDOT Proposes Overpass in Latest Design for Congested Wilmington Intersection

Wed July 12, 2023 - Southeast Edition #15
Port City Daily

A rendering of the proposed Eastwood/Military Cutoff Road interchange overpass. (NCDOT image)
A rendering of the proposed Eastwood/Military Cutoff Road interchange overpass. (NCDOT image)

A notoriously congested intersection in Wilmington, N.C., could see a reprieve with a fresh redesign that will save millions and reduce the impact to properties in the area.

Building an overpass at the Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road intersection has been on the North Carolina Department of Transportation's radar since 2014, with stakeholder and public meetings taking place through 2018.

After being put on hold from 2019 to 2021, due to NCDOT's cash flow issues, right-of-way acquisitions finally began in June 2023, the Port City Daily in Wilmington reported July 5.

"Because of the amount of impact, we went back and did some preliminary looks," Chad Kimes, an NCDOT Division 3 engineer, told the local news outlet.

During the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's (WMPO) recent monthly board meeting, Kimes presented an alternative design to garner feedback before proceeding.

The main difference in the latest plan versus the last one is NCDOT has decided to not convert Commonwealth Drive into a quadrant-style four-lane design. Now the road will remain as is, reducing the amount of construction. It also would have limited access to businesses in Progress Point, such as a CVS and PT's Grill, across the street from Commonwealth.

"We typically don't come back for redesigns, but it's big enough we felt it was important to get the board's support," he said.

The WMPO board voted to approve the changes June 28.

The updated configuration will save NCDOT an estimated $5.7 million. Kimes explained that the state agency will not know the real savings until it finalizes property acquisition negotiations and puts the project out to bid.

Initially anticipated to cost $61.8 million — with $16.9 million set aside for rights-of-way acquisitions — the new estimate is $56.1 million, with $14.6 million for rights-of-way.

The original design showed the need to acquire 80 properties; the new one eliminates or reduces impacts to seven of them.

NCDOT declined to reveal which businesses will be impacted.

"Plans propose to acquire portions of business property, but it is too soon to confirm whether there will be any ‘total takes' of businesses," explained Lauren Haviland, an NCDOT spokesperson. "Appraisals and discussions with property [and] business owners will be required prior to this confirmation."

Drysdale Drive Work a Key Component of Larger Effort

The new intersection layout will be reliant on the completion of the Drysdale Drive extension. Construction started last September after NCDOT awarded a $7.2-million contract to Chatham Civil Contracting in Siler City, N.C. A $3.84 million boost to that effort was due to the advocacy of U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-7th District, in 2021. He used one of his 10 allocated earmarks to request the funds.

The Drysdale extension will create an alternative path for traffic traveling Eastwood and Military Cutoff. The road is being built at a new location, passing through the future CenterPoint mixed-use development, also under construction.

Due to the high traffic the development will bring — 300 apartment units, a 200-room hotel, and 220,000 sq. ft. of mixed-use space — work on the Drysdale Drive extension was necessary for CenterPoint to come to fruition.

Haviland told Port City Daily last fall that its construction would "alleviate some concerns."

Drysdale Drive is expected to be completed next summer and allow for an alternate route to divert drivers past the overpass construction.

The new Drysdale connector, though, is just one phase in the Military Cutoff and Eastwood Drive interchange upgrade.

Plans call for the traffic signal at Military Cutoff and Eastwood to be removed and replaced with an Eastwood Road overpass crossing Military Cutoff. Ramps placed near the bridge will accommodate turning traffic.

Once the entire project is completed, those drivers headed east toward Wrightsville Beach from Eastwood will need to travel through the new Drysdale Drive extension, then turn right on Military Cutoff. If traveling west from Wrightsville Beach toward Oleander Drive, motorists will have to cross the intersection under the overpass, turn onto Drysdale, then make a right turn to head south.

One main improvement with the new design is cars traveling off Drysdale will be able to make a left and a right onto Eastwood; the previous design only allowed a right turn.

Initially, the construction would have also transformed Commonwealth Drive's two lanes into four. Now, Commonwealth Drive is planned to remain as is, though a traffic signal will be added at the Military Cutoff Drive entrance.

Additionally, traffic lights will be installed at both ends of Drysdale Drive, as well as Military Cutoff and Allens Lane.

According to NCDOT, if all goes well, construction on the Military Cutoff and Eastwood Road overpass will begin by 2026.

Room for Future Capacity Behind Intersection Project

NCDOT's goal in upgrading the Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road intersection is to add additional capacity to the roads on the east side of Wilmington.

Traffic along the area's corridors is likely to increase significantly by 2035, the agency predicts. For Eastwood Road, average daily vehicles were 22,000 in 2015, and are anticipated to jump to 39,300 by 2035. Military Cutoff sees roughly 41,000 cars and trucks currently and is expected to up that total to 64,400 cars in the next 12 years.

The intersection is currently evaluated at an "E" level service — meaning poor. According to the transportation department, if no improvements are made by 2042, the area would be downgraded to an "F," the lowest possible ranking.

Both roads are considered at "failing" levels of service and the proposed overpass would improve the surrounding intersections to acceptable levels, with ratings ranging from A to C.

In addition, the transportation agency hopes to bring traffic signal delays down to 34 to 45 seconds.

"Dispersing traffic through various other intersections reduces impacts [to properties] and increases capacity because of a better signal system," Kimes told Port City Daily.

Meanwhile, the Military Cutoff extension, lengthening the road north from Market Street to N.C. Highway 140, is nearing completion, he said. The $106 million project will add 4.15 mi. to the roadway and eventually connect it to the completed Hampstead Bypass for a combined 17.5 mi.

Originally intended to open by fall 2022, various utility conflicts resulted in a 297-day delay on the Military Cutoff extension project. Supply chain disruptions furthered the impact, but NCDOT told the Wilmington news source July 3 that the project should be open by late this summer or early fall.

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