Commissioner Frank Williams’ Comments on the Cape Fear Crossing

May 17, 2019 — In recent weeks I have received numerous comments from citizens expressing their opinions on the various alternatives for the future Cape Fear Crossing bridge. I have read and attempted to respond to every email on this subject (I apologize if I missed anyone). I also attended one of the public hearings and watched the video of the second. I understand the concerns stated by those who have emailed us. At the same time, I understand the complexities of the merger process.

Yesterday, I submitted my comments on this project to NCDOT in advance of the deadline. The text of my letter is below, and it can be viewed here as a PDF.

TEXT OF MY LETTER:

May 16, 2019

Attn: NCDOT / Cape Fear Crossing Merger Team

RE: Proposed Cape Fear Crossing

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to share my perspective on the proposed routes for the future Cape Fear Crossing. I represent District 5, which includes Brunswick Forest and Mallory Creek, on the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners. I also live in an adjacent neighborhood, and I drive through both Mallory Creek and Brunswick Forest nearly every day. Additionally, I represent Brunswick County on the Wilmington MPO Board. I am writing in my capacity as an individual commissioner, as the Board of Commissioners has not adopted any formal position on this issue.

Let me begin by thanking you for your hard work on a thankless project. Like you, I have received emails from numerous citizens in the areas potentially affected by this future project. One of the challenges of leadership is making difficult decisions that may be unpopular. At the same time, we must understand and demonstrate empathy for those who have contacted us to express their concerns.

Please allow me to share a few facts and principles which guide my thinking on the potential alternatives:

  • The selected route should meet the project’s stated purpose and need: to improve traffic flow and enhance freight movements from U.S. 17 and I-140 in Brunswick County across the Cape Fear River to U.S. 421 near the Port of Wilmington in southern New Hanover County. While the Port is an important part of this equation, it is not the only
  • Brunswick County is the fastest-growing County in North Carolina and one of the fastest in the United States. Much of this growth is centered in and around Leland and is pushing further south down U.S. 17. The selected route should help accommodate that growth while not driving a stake through the heart of it.
  • Because Brunswick County’s growth will likely continue in years to come, we should not kick the can down the road.
  • Because of the potential adverse impacts of ongoing uncertainty on property values and the real estate market, we should select a route as soon as is practically possible.
  • Because of the two previous bullets, I cannot support any changes that move the merger process back to concurrence point #1.
  • While impacts on residential properties are only one of a long list of factors considered in the merger process, the human impact should not be taken lightly. As has been stated in many of the emails we have received, many of the people in the potential paths are seniors who have invested their life savings in their homes. This is an important factor that should be given its due consideration.
  • While it would be ideal to select a route that has no impacts on homes, that is not realistic given the practical realities of the merger process, the myriad of agencies involved, and federal laws that impact the process. With that said, the route should impact as few homes as practically possible, and NCDOT should not seek to short-change citizens whose homes are required to be purchased during future right-of-way acquisition.
  • The recent completion of Interstate 140 opened a northern route in and out of Brunswick County and a direct connection from Wilmington to Navassa. The causeway connecting the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and Isabel Holmes bridges to Brunswick County provide a connector from U.S. 74/76 and the heart of Leland and Belville. A future southern route will meet the purpose and need by increasing connectivity between southern New Hanover County and the southern portions of the Leland and Winnabow areas.
  • If the proposed route is to improve traffic flow, it should NOT dump traffic back onto US 17 or US 74/76. Instead, it should effectively be a southern extension of Interstate 140.
  • A southern route will provide quicker access for emergency vehicles serving southern portions of Leland and surrounding areas to reach the trauma center at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
  • None of these alternatives is perfect, but some will more effectively meet the purpose and need while creating as few adverse impacts as possible than others.

Given these facts, I strongly encourage the merger team to immediately eliminate alternatives B, Q & T. Further, while I am not as strongly opposed to alternative V-AW as proposed through the merger process, it is my understanding that the Federal Highway Administration has already stated that they could not sign off on this alternative. Regarding the modified VA-W proposal, it is my understanding that the NCDOT is evaluating it to determine whether it will meet the project’s purpose and need and whether it will have adverse effects. Of the alternatives currently under consideration by the merger team, I encourage the merger team to adopt alternative MA or NA, as unanimously recommended by the WMPO Board in May 2017, and then make every possible effort during the next phase (Avoidance & Minimization) to reduce or eliminate impacts to residents in Stoney Creek, Snee Farm, Snowfield and surrounding areas. Specifically, every effort should be made to route the road around neighborhoods rather than bisect them. Finally, I encourage NCDOT to take steps to mitigate the impact of noise on homes near the selected route.

Thank you for your consideration, and thank you for your diligence.

Sincerely,

Frank Williams
Brunswick County Commissioner
District 5

Frank Williams
Frank Williams
Frank Williams