WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board voted Wednesday to include tolls as a possible funding option for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement.
The board did not decide on whether the bridge will be built with tolls, rather it decided to include a toll option to help get the project considered on the state’s 2026-2035 State Transportation Improvement Program.
The board voted 8-5 to approve the resolution, with Mike Allen, Lynn Barbee, John Ellen, Wendy Fletcher-Hardee, Bill Rivenbark, Hank Miller, Mike Forte and London Zimmer in favor. Bill Saffo, Johnathan Barfield Jr., Brenda Bozeman, Luke Waddell, and Eulis Willis cast the dissenting votes.
Forte voted in the place of Frank Williams since Williams could not appear at the meeting.
“We basically kept our options open to get more federal funding and state funding, We’re just keeping our options open. Nothing was committed to today. The only commitment made would be by the DOT to continue to spend money, trying to bring more money to this area, trying to get more grant money, and trying to get this thing fully funded,” Landon Zimmer, NCDOT board member, said.
WMPO adopted a resolution urging consideration of all possible options back in Feb. of 2022, including tolls and previous proposals for the replacement of the bridge. But not everybody wants tolls to be considered as an option even for scoring alone.
“So, to shift the burden of funding it onto the taxpayers to open up the possibility of shifting that burden onto the taxpayers who’ve already paid for it via their tax dollars or gas tax is to me wrong. It’s unprecedented in the state. And as I’ve said publicly, I think it’s a bridge too far,” Luke Waddell, WMPO’s vice chairman, said.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo agreed.
“My concern is for the working men and women that cross that bridge every single day to come into Wilmington or go into Brunswick County for work to have to pay a toll,” Saffo said. “And right now we don’t know what that toll would look like, what the amount would be.”
While the bridge replacement is WMPO’s top unfunded priority, it is still currently set for preliminary engineering only in the 2024-2033 STIP.
“Obviously, it would be incredible if this thing gets, you know, majority funded from the federal government and the state picks up the rest and scores high enough in prioritization and we never get a toll. My thought is that that is unlikely. And that getting at the end result will likely be a vote coming back before this body that’s binary in nature and says you either get a bridge via toll or you get nothing,” Waddell said.
NCDOT’s and WMPO’s submitted bridge proposals for consideration in Prioritization 7.0, the prioritization process that will be used to evaluate projects for the 2026-2035 program, will be scored identically as a non-tolled alternative.
Current state law requires tolling to be a local decision, and therefore only WMPO can submit the project for scoring in Prioritization 7.0 as a toll facility. WMPO has until February to modify the replacement project submittal for scoring as a toll facility in Prioritization 7.0.
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