MOREHEAD CITY – The N.C. Department of Transportation has put two high-profile Carteret County projects on hold due to a statewide funding shortfall within the department.
NCDOT Division 2 and 3 Communications Officer Lauren Haviland confirmed in an email to the News-Times that work has been suspended on the Bridges Street extension project and the Newport River bridge-widening project. Both projects, as well as several others throughout the state, are still expected to be carried out eventually, but engineers are not actively working on them at this time.
According to the 2020-29 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which the State Board of Transportation formally adopted this month, right-of-way acquisition for the Bridges Street extension project is expected to begin in 2022 and construction will start in 2025, one year later than projected in the 2018-27 STIP. However, Ms. Haviland said with the project on hold, a preferred alternative route will not be selected at this time.
Selection of a preferred alternative for the Bridges Street project has been delayed several times over the past couple of years. Originally, engineers planned to choose the preferred alternative sometime last year, but public feedback on the routes made them reevaluate the options and consider a route that had previously been eliminated.
Most recently, the preferred alternative was expected to be released around June along with department’s completed Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact. Around that time, however, NCDOT announced it was reconsidering some projects in the 2020-29 STIP due to a funding shortfall caused by costly weather events in recent years, including hurricanes Matthew and Florence.
The purpose of the Bridges Street extension project is to help relieve congestion on Highway 70 between Morehead City and Newport and provide better access to the industrial park on Business Drive. The project proposes extending the current Bridges Street extension by about 3 miles and involves widening the roadway along Business Drive to Old Airport Road, then constructing on a new location to connect to Highway 70 in the vicinity of McCabe Road.
NCDOT has hosted a series of three public meetings since January 2018 to inform residents on the latest project plans and receive feedback on those plans. Most recently, the department held a meeting March 20 at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City to update the public on the alternative routes under consideration.
As of March, NCDOT is considering two alternatives routes for the project – one along Old Murdoch Road and the other just west of Sam Garner Road. The alternative routes can be viewed online at ncdot.gov/news/public-meetings/Pages/R-5727-2019-03-20.aspx or at publicinput.com/BridgesSt.
The project timeline on the public input website still lists the EA and FONSI to be released in June.
During last month’s county transportation committee meeting, Economic Development Director Don Kirkman said tenants of the industrial park are eagerly awaiting the preferred alternative so they can plan their own developments.
“The lack of clarity around what that’s going to look like is really impeding investment by a number of the property owners and businesses out there,” he said Aug. 21. “…The faster we can move forward with some clarity, the more the property owners and businesses will be willing to go ahead and pull the trigger on some significant new investments that will benefit the county.”
Residents who would be affected by the Bridges Street extension project, especially those in the Wildwood and Sam Garner Road communities, have been outspoken against the proposed project. Both groups submitted petitions to NCDOT urging them to reconsider the project or find a route that will not force long-time residents from their homes or disrupt farming activities.
According to the latest STIP, the Bridges Street extension project will cost about $55 million, up from previous estimates around $45 million.
As for the Newport River bridge project, it is still in the early stages of development, with only preliminary plans laid out, so far. The purpose of that project is to widen the high-rise bridge over the Newport River between Morehead City and Radio Island from two to four lanes.
According to the STIP, right-of-way acquisition is in progress and construction is slated to begin in 2022. It will cost an estimated $156 million. NCDOT officials did not say how the recently announced hold on the project will affect its timeline.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.