Wilmington - The N.C. Department of Transportation made significant progress during 2016 on several of the goals outlined in Governor Pat McCrory's 25-Year Vision for transportation, and the results will benefit residents and visitors in southern coastal North Carolina for years to come.
Limited access and seasonal traffic congestion have been longtime challenges for Division 3, which includes Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender, Onslow, Duplin and Sampson counties. Thanks to projects that will improve highway routes and replace aging bridges, the future is considerably brighter.
"This year brought us closer to fulfilling Governor McCrory's goals of improving safety, enhancing mobility and reducing congestion," Division Engineer Karen Collette said. "We opened the Leland Causeway Bridge to traffic, made definitive progress on the I-140 Wilmington Bypass and began work on the new Surf City Bridge."
State officials broke ground on the new Surf City Bridge in October. The bridge will replace one of two bridges that provide access to Topsail Island. The existing structure is a steel truss swing span bridge that is more than 60 years old and must open for vessels on the water.
The new bridge will feature a 65-foot vertical clearance for vessels in the waterway. Eliminating travel delays caused when the current bridge opens and closes is expected to be a boon for tourism. The bridge will also aid with emergency access and hurricane evacuation when it opens in 2020.
Commuters rejoiced when all lanes of the Leland Causeway opened in November, improving travel times for nearly 100,000 drivers that use the route each day. Safety on the causeway was enhanced by the extension of the merge lane from U.S. 421 and the addition of a diverging diamond interchange on Village Road/N.C. 133 at U.S. 17.
Communities throughout Division Three were ravaged by the impact of Hurricane Matthew in October. Severe flooding forced the closure of more than 100 primary and secondary roads throughout the area.
Soon after the storm passed, transportation crews moved swiftly to assess the damage and begin the process of repairing roads and bridges. Several secondary roads in the division are still being repaired. The effort will continue into next year.
"We owe Governor McCrory a debt of gratitude for his leadership through this natural disaster," said Collette.
Transportation crews were hard at work this year on a project that will greatly enhance connectivity to the Wilmington area for residents and visitors alike when it opens in 2017.
The first section of the I-140 Wilmington Bypass begins north of the U.S. 74/76 and N.C. 140 interchange and runs northeast for 4.5 miles to Cedar Hill Road, west of the Cape Fear River. The second section runs from Cedar Hill Road for three miles and ends at the existing U.S. 421/I-140 Interchange. Both sections are on track for completion by November 2017.
"The Wilmington Bypass is the final piece in a multi-year effort to reduce traffic congestion and improve the quality of life for anyone that lives in or travels to the City of Wilmington and surrounding areas," Collette said.
The Wilmington Bypass will be a four-lane divided highway, elevated at least six feet above the ground. Eleven of the project's 19 new bridges are over railroad tracks, and two are more than 7,000 feet long.