FIRST ON 3: 3rd Street work could squeeze, shorten Azalea Festival Parade

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — For months drivers and pedestrians alike have had to deal with the shifts and delays caused by roadwork in downtown Wilmington. The North 3rd Street Improvement Project will continue until later this year, which means it could impact one of the biggest events of the year.

Crews continue to work on one of Wilmington’s best known streets — giving North 3rd a facelift of sorts.

“That includes new water and sewer mains underneath the road. It includes taking the power lines and utility lines and putting them underneath the road to make it much more attractive,” Wilmington city spokesman Dylan Lee said.

The project, which started in August, had some unexpected bumps in the road, like fuel tanks uncovered, which had to be disposed of.

Lately, there have been no big problems. The city says work on the other lanes will start soon.

“That whole travel area is going to shift over to the other side of the road for the southern side of the project from (Princess Street) to Grace Street,” Lee said. “That’ll happen in the next couple of weeks.”

The project is expected to be finished some time in September. That has many wondering what’s going to happen come Azalea Festival weekend, specifically the parade on April 14?

“The parade route is going to stay the same as last year as far as we know at this point,” Azalea Festival Parade Chair John Russ said. “It is our understanding as well that the city is going to do everything they can in their power to have the street completely cleaned as much as possible as they continue to move down 3rd Street toward our staging area.”

Parade organizers say some details could change in the coming weeks, but as of right now, the plan is to squeeze the parade to one side of the street. That means having bleachers only on one side. But probably the most noticeable change in 2012 will be the length of the parade, possibly being 15 to 30 minutes shorter.

“We’re anticipating that it might be a little shorter, because it is going to take us a little more time to stage the parade,” Russ said. “What I mean by that is place the units in the proper order that we have them in and kind of get them set up to make the move down 3rd Street.”

That means perhaps as many as 60 fewer entrants in the parade.

“We are going to put up a hard deadline when we stop taking applications so we don’t overextend ourselves, having too many participants in the parade to where we’re not able to get a precise time frame knowing that we are up against a little construction constraints down there with what’s going on on 3rd Street,” Russ said.

The city hopes to have all of 3rd Street open and cleaned for the Azalea Festival Parade.

If you’re interested in being in the parade, the application deadline is February 28.

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