Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 prioritizes roadway, aviation and public transportation projects
In the coming years, the Wilmington region could see more funding for roadway projects than any other mode of transportation.
According to a draft of the region’s transportation plan, Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045, roadway, aviation and public transportation projects are the highest funded expenditures, accounting for $4.9 billion.
The top five roadway projects included in the plan are:
N.C. 133 / Castle Hayne Road widening
Oleander Drive and College Road interchange
Front Street widening
Carolina Beach Road upgrade
But despite this, public transportation projects saw a 65% decrease in funding compared to the current plan, Cape Fear Transportation 2040, which is expiring in November.
“We would love to see more money coming into our region over the next 25 years for alternative modes of transportation (such as) public transportation, walking, biking, but we just currently do not have that funding structure in place” Abby Lorenzo, senior transportation planner, said.
Updated every five years, the region’s transportation plan is a requirement to secure federal funding for transportation projects in all of New Hanover County and portions of Pender and Brunswick, including Hampstead, Leland, Belville and Navassa.
The 25-year plan will be used by federal, state and local governments to guide projects in aviation, bicycle and pedestrian, ferry, roadway, bus and rail. The plan, which has been in development since 2018, uses data gathered from the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), transportation experts and online sources from the past 10 years to predict the funding for future projects.
WMPO, which is responsible for the development of the plan, is set to make a final vote on it in October. Residents with questions about the plan can reach out to Lorenzo at [email protected]
Compared to the current plan, the Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 draft plan estimates a significant increase in roadway capital funding (79%) and in funding for ferry and water transportation (56%).
Meanwhile, bicycle and pedestrian capital funding decreased significantly (by 33%) and so did freight rail capital funding (by 21%), according to the draft plan.
Survey results, however, showed many are in favor of an increase in transportation for bicyclists.
According to online survey results from the plan’s public outreach efforts, which garnered a total of 7,404 public responses, 72% said they would bike more often if more off-road multi-use paths were available while around 50% said they would bike more often if there were more on-road paths.
Additionally, upwards of 50% think the region should invest more transportation dollars in bicycle facilities and safety efforts as well as the improvement of the safety and quality of existing roads.
“We’re federally mandated to prepare this plan and prepare within it a financial forecast that is realistic; we are unable to make the assumption that come 2045 millions of dollars are going to (be available) for one of these alternative modes of transportation,” said Lorenzo.
But Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 really just tweaks the previous plan and doesn’t go much further than that, Laura Padgett said, chairwoman of the citizen advisory committee established by WMPO, which dissolved in May.
“I think one of the things that concerned me and other members of the team is that we’re not getting out in front of new ideas about transportation,” Padgett said. “We’re not getting out in front of potential improvements in alternative transportation and we’re not getting out in front of technology. Until we’re willing to fund other transportation modes other than just roads and cars, we’re going to be behind the rest of the world.”
Since the majority of transportation expenditures have historically been spent on highway projects, this trend is forecasted to continue through 2045, Lorenzo said, which is why roadway projects make up such a huge portion of the plan’s forecasted funding.
Lorenzo said despite the limited funding for alternative transportation projects, the plan still places a heavy emphasis on trying to get out ahead of what’s to come.
This may require changing how transportation projects are funded.
That doesn’t mean the funding distributions can’t change, she said, noting, “things change and they can change quickly.”
Mike Kozlosky, MPO executive director, said the plan “went further than it’s ever gone as it relates to technological advancement.”
The plan takes into account the changes likely to become prevalent during its lifespan. One way this is done is by recognizing future technologies such as the use of drones, autonomous vehicles and intelligent transportation systems. A project that furthers the use of technology in transportation is the implementation of WiFi on buses, a project with a planning year of 2025.
Since the plan has been in development since 2018, the financial forecast only factors in historical funding trends prior to North Carolina Department of Transportation’s cash flow shortages, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the department reported a decrease in gas and highway use tax revenue, which are huge funding sources for transportation projects.
“People are driving less because of COVID-19, and gas tax revenues that are coming in that fund a majority of the projects in our region were declining even without COVID-19 because people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles,” Lorenzo said. “So, the plan does what it can, knowing what we know now to address transportation in the future, but it also tries to take a step forward in addressing the concerns that we don’t necessarily know are coming.”
Other sources to assist in funding alternative transportation options could come from quarter cent sales tax increases, motor vehicle registration fees, transportation bonds and tolling.
“This plan is a culmination of a tremendous amount of time effort and energy, so this document that we put out has been through a strict process to get to where we are today,” Kozlosky said. “It plan lays the foundation for our infrastructure over the next 25 years.”