LELAND, NC (WWAY) — Neighbors in Brunswick County want the North Carolina Department of Transportation to pump the brakes on a nearly billion dollar bridge project.
It has led to new alternate routes that neighbors have pitched to DOT. Leland town leaders tell WWAY the clock is ticking. Mayor Pro Tem Pat Batleman believes a design could be ready by summer. A majority of neighbors have made it clear that after two public meetings, there are other options they want transportation officials to look at.
“I don’t see the real benefits they’re trying to squeeze out of this,” said Brayton Willis.
Willis has a background in civil engineering and strategic planning. He serves on the citizen advisory committee for the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization and on the Transportation Oversight Committee for the Town of Leland. Willis has a plan of his own in mind for the Crossing.
“I think without question there has been positive support to move this forward,” Willis said.
Willis’s plan would be a modified version of the NCDOT route titled V-AW. The initial plan takes traffic from the Port of Wilmington through Carolina Beach Road south of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge with a connecter on Eagle Island to Highway 421 and 74-76.
Willis’s alternative would use a replacement of the vertical lift Cape Fear Memorial Bridge.
“Right now we’re putting band-aids on it left and right,” Willis said pointing to the current repairs and referencing the bridge’s age.
Willis says the bridge will need to be replaced eventually and sees this as a right time to do that.
“This would be the time to take a look at all of the opportunities especially in a fiscally constrained environment,” Willis said. “I mean these tax dollars are extremely valuable and we want to squeeze as much as we can out of them. This is an opportunity to do that.”
However, his pitch to the NCDOT has been turned down for now.
Chad Kimes with NCDOT responded to Willis’s proposal saying, “This modified alternative for V-AW has the same fatal issues as the current proposed V-AW alternative plus some additional issues that would not make it a feasible and practicable alternative.”
NCDOT provided neighbors at the Tuesday meeting with answers to questions surrounding Willis’s proposal.
“The alternative submitted by Brayton Willis has some of the same impacts as the current Alternative V-AW, including a potential adverse impact to the Wilmington Historic District, and a large amount of coastal wetland impacts,” was a statement in that meeting handout. “The proposed alignment does not improve US 17 west of the US 74/76 interchange as V-AW does.”
Willis argues that the DOT plans to improve highway 17 in Alternative V-AW with a reported widening will only hurt existing businesses. That’s why many neighbors in Brunswick Forest and on the Cape Fear Crossing Coalition want proposals MA or NA to move forward with conditions.
“There are opportunities to push that route further south,” said Robert Crosby who lives in Cape Fear National a portion of the Brunswick Forest neighborhood.
Crosby says the two plans, which differ in starting points, could be moved south of the Stoney and Mallory Creek neighborhoods.
“If either Alternative M Avoidance or N Avoidance is chosen as the preferred alternative, NCDOT will evaluate the most feasible location,” was a response NCDOT had in a question and answer form shared at the Leland public meeting.
If you ask Leland Town leaders, both plans are not getting enough attention compared to the support they have from residents.
“NCDOT, they’re not interested in doing what they consider what is going to be a lot more work, studying things again,” said Batleman. “They’re just not right now in the mood.”
NCDOT personnel tell WWAY they accept everything related to public comments, but that may not result in a new alternative coming out of the meetings.
The public comment period for the project closed May 16 and you can weigh in here.
You can also view the current draft of the projects Environmental Impact study here.