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The Cape Fear Region has a vision for transportation, but will a lack of funding get in the way?

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Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization
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Cover of Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 Plan

The Cape Fear Region’s five-year transportation plan is now official, and it offers a vision of where we’re headed over the next twenty-five years. The document determines which projects get funded and which ones don’t.It’s called Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045. And it outlines projects for six modes of transportation: aviation, bicycle, pedestrian, ferry, freight rail, public transit, and roadways.

Mike Kozlosky is the Executive Director for the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization or WMPO. He says citizens can consult the plan to see a list of prioritized transportation improvements.

“Say I live on Masonboro Loop Road, I can go to this plan and look and see is there anticipation that I’ll see some type of bicycle and pedestrian improvement constructed in my area within the next 25 years.”

In the plan, projects are listed in a table with the rank, name, planning year, and cost. For example, at the top of the roadway list, it’s the Hampstead Bypass for 2025 with a price tag close to $205 and a half million dollars.

Most of the WMPO’s funding comes from the State Transportation Improvement Program, which is a combination of federal and state funds. There’s also local funding, but it pales in comparison.

Abby Lorenzo, Deputy Director of the WMPO, says the state’s Department of Transportation has a $7 billion dollar budget gap. And when the plan was written, this wasn’t taken into account:

“Because the planned development process takes so long, a lot of these elements were essentially finalized prior to NCDOT’s financial shortfalls. However, we update this plan every 5 years.”

Pat Batleman is a member of the Leland Town Council, and she’s been on the WMPO Board for nine years. 

“But whether or not the things that we’ve listed will indeed get done by the date that they claim they’re going to be scheduled to begin, I don’t know. It’s a crapshoot unless we get more money.”

Within Cape Fear Moving Forward, there’s a section exploring other sources of funding like a quarter-cent local sales tax increase. But the issue remains, how can the region fund what needs to be done now? Councilor Batleman:
  
“And we really needed them yesterday. It’s getting pretty hairy trying to keep up the demands of the tremendous growth that we have. So, it’s a very big concern, and it’s one that we know we’re going to have to address with coming up with other means of subsidizing transportation infrastructure.”

Laura Padgett served as Chair of the Cape Fear Moving Forward’s Citizens Advisory Committee. She also served on Wilmington City Council for twenty years:

“I think it’s easier to get public approval for those funding methods than elected officials think it is. Those types of requests for a quarter-cent or half a cent sales tax or more across the country have actually passed in larger numbers than they’ve failed.” 

She’s talking about putting another transportation bond on the ballot. The last one the City of Wilmington passed was in 2014, which funded local bike and pedestrian projects like the Central College Trail.

While Padgett agrees this plan continues to push alternative forms of transportation, she says we still have a long way to go in terms of shoring up public transit and getting away from a car-centered society:

“I wish that the region and the state and the country could begin to think out of the box on exactly how we need to move people. How can we bring access and mobility to both individuals and groups and families of people? How are we going to get people where they need to go efficiently and not ruin our environment at the same time?”

The WMPO took about three years to finish the Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 plan. But despite just finalizing this one, they soon begin work on 2050.

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The Cape Fear Region has a vision for transportation, but will a lack of funding get in the way?
Listen to the story here.

The WMPO conducted a 17-question transportation survey and received close to 2,300 responses. 

Residents’ number one priority, according to a WMPO survey, is to improve the safety of existing roads. But when they were asked how they’d like to get around in the future, 66% say they’d like to bike more often and 59% say they want to drive less.

Laura Padgett is Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Cape Fear Moving Forward Plan:

“You can’t flip the switch and remove people from using cars; we’re not that type of society. But as if we really would look into the future with our transportation planning and understand some of the impacts that the way we do transportation now is worsening our environment.”

Pat Batleman, Vice-Chair of the WMPO Board, agrees it’s difficult to invest in alternative means of transportation, and there’s a reason for that:

“There’s no money to do the modern things, you would think by the year 2025, or in this case, 2045, would be out there. It’s frustrating to me.”

Both Padgett and Batleman say there are ways to support public transit and bike and pedestrian paths, but what’s missing, they say, is national and state leadership -- and the funding that comes with it.

Cape Fear Moving Forward 2045 Plan

Cape Fear Moving Forward Technical Appendices

The NC Department of Transportation's NC First Commission is asking the public for comments on potential future revenue streams. Click here to submit your comments. Send them in before December 14th.