WILMINGTON -- For eight years running New Hanover County has been rated the most dangerous county in the state in which to drive. AAA says New Hanover County has more accidents per miles driven than any of the state's 100 counties. Police say the amount of traffic on the road is the main contributing factor, and with the population on the rise it's only going to get worse. The waiting, the back-ups, the frustrations... Frustrated driver Charita Perry said, "It's busy. It doesn't flow; it causes a lot of wrecks." The Highway Patrol says it's simply unsafe. NC Highway Patrol First Sgt. J.O. Holmes said, "For such a small place the traffic is unbelievable right now. It's hard to actually get out in and enforce the laws because you can't safely turn around on vehicles all the time." Taxi driver Joe Brown said, "From about 5:30 in the morning to about 6:30 at night, you have outrageous tragic." According to the city's 2007 Citizen and Staff survey, more than half of you agree. When asked what the city could improve upon 41 percent of people surveyed say they're generally less satisfied with the management of storm water runoff; 42 percent were less satisfied with the maintenance of city streets; 43 percent aren't satisfied with the quality of city water and waste water utilities. But an overwhelming 61 percent of us know the real issue: traffic flow on city streets. According to the survey, management of traffic on city streets needs the most attention. Driver Christina Koch said, "In Wilmington I think they should have planned it out a little better. I don't think they expected it to grow so big and it's just the roads need to expand or something because it's pretty hectic and there are a lot of accidents." If it's frustrating now for drivers to take to the open road, imagine what its going to be like in 2020. City traffic officials say there's no quick fix to solving the congestion problem. City Traffic Engineer Don Bennett said, "When we look at addressing our transportation needs within the year 2020, we realize that we can not build our way out of this, we're going to have a multi-faceted approach addressing our transportation needs."
Future projects...There are a few road projects on the horizon, including the next phase of the Wilmington I-140 bypass that will run from 421 to 74/76. Also, a two-way interchange loop to alleviate traffic at the city's busiest intersection, Oleander and College. A widening of Kerr Avenue between MLK and Randall is also funded. But maybe the most widespread improvement will be a new traffic signal system that would update the outdated technology that currently times our lights. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said, "This will mean less waiting at stop lights and better synchronization at stop lights. We're spending $9 million to do it." City traffic engineers say the system was state-of-the-art in 1985, and they're about 50 percent of the way through updating it to 2008 technology. Bennett said, "It will be software controlled, so they can keep the equipment the same, and then just update the software so the next upgrade won't have to be as labor intensive." City traffic engineers say if the city could build roads with unlimited funding they couldn't do it fast enough to keep up with the growing amount of traffic. Even so, drivers and city officials a like say that isn't the solution. Driver Ophard Willis said, "The traffic is going to be crazy in Wilmington in the year 2020. We've got to have some better roads or this place is going to be one big parking lot."
A different solution...
Cape Fear Breeze coordinator Lawless Bean said, "At some point we have to make a decision about what our vision truly is for the future. And do we want a community that's going to be covered in pavement, or do we want to preserve the environment that drew us all here?" In fact, the solution to the traffic issue may lie with you. The city has teamed up with a grassroots organization called Cape Fear Breeze to help people carpool to work and find alternative modes of transportation. And for the first time in 17 years, the city is offering free bike maps if you want to go by two wheels. The hope going forward is for less cars on the road, while making the future of our city a little greener along the way. If you're interested in carpooling, riding your bike or finding alternative modes of transportation around town you can visit www.capefearbreeze.com. You can calculate the cost of your commute and how much you can save if you chose to leave the car at home.