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Submitted by WWAY on Tue, 02/12/2008 - 6:06pm.

WILMINGTON -- Our roads and bridges are the part of our infrastructure that keeps us moving. But will the infrastructure we have now keep us moving into the year 2020? Last year's Minneapolis bridge collapse was a sobering reminder that bridges break down. They get old and wear out. That's true here too. Department of Transportation Bridge Engineer Amanda Glynn said, "Most bridges have a 50-100 year life span and a lot of the bridges built in the '50s and '60s are reaching that lifespan." Wilmington's Third Street Bridge has become the poster child for our crumbling infrastructure. Engineers tell us the bridge is still safe but in urgent need of attention. Under that bridge you can find crumbling pieces of concrete with bits of rebar still in them. The concrete is falling away from the rusting steel reinforced rods in the center part of the bridge -- the oldest part. The state DOT says 55 of the 233 bridges in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender Counties are structurally deficient. That's nearly one quarter of the bridges in the three county area, but the money is only there to replace eight of them right now. So you patch them up. "It's something we have to do: preventative maintenance and just take care of what we have until it can be replaced," Glynn said. "We just can't meet our current needs with our current revenue." The money simply is not there to take care of all of our road and bridge needs. DOT Division Engineer Allen Pope said, "The long range transportation plan is basically established with current revenue streams, that over this 25-30 year plan we're going to be about $65 billion short -- billion with a B -- to meeting our needs." That said, there are several projects on the books locally that have already been funded. Most notably the Wilmington bypass, I-140. The next leg will run from 421 to 74/76, it's slated for completion in 2016. Another project in the works will change the busy intersection at College and Oleander. "This project will actually take all left turn movements away from that intersection. You'll only be able to make right turns and go straight through," Pope said. How will they do that? By creating a two way interchange type loop adjacent to the intersection near McRae Park. That's how you'll be able to go left. A widening of Kerr Avenue between the MLK Parkway and Randall is slated for 2011. And if the money ever becomes available a Hampstead bypass and Military Cutoff extension may become reality -- but not by 2020. "Growth is already here and you have to identify it as a need to get funding for it," Pope said. In other words, we may never get ahead of the curve. Highway 17 also presents a formidable challenge in Brunswick and Pender Counties. How daunting is the lack of funding? Very. A statewide committee will be holding a two day meeting here later this month trying to find new sources of money for our roads and bridges.

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