Rail Realignment  

The Rail Realignment Project will replace and improve the existing freight rail route between Navassa and the Port of Wilmington by creating a new, shorter route that no longer runs through some of the busiest streets and most densely populated areas in our region.

train icon

The City of Wilmington is already progressing in engineering design and an environmental review for the project, which has the potential to improve freight rail operations, public mobility, public safety, economic development, and quality of life in the region.

Once a new freight rail route is in operation, the city and county would seek to repurpose the exiting right-of-way for public transportation uses – such as pedestrian paths, bike paths, enhancement of Wave Transit routes, and more – to benefit our community even further. 

About 16 percent, an estimated $23.1 million, of the quarter-cent sales tax would be used over the first 10 years to help fund specific parts of the Rail Realignment Project that would help to create better connections through the relocation of rails and implementation of sidewalks and multi-use paths to transit stops and opportunities. Below is an outline of the goals of the Rail Realignment Project, both in the near term and the future, and how this funding would be used. 

Near Term: South Front Street Rail and Pedestrian Improvements 

Initially, sales tax funds would go toward enhancements of the NCDOT street widening and multi-use path project on South Front Street, by relocating part of the freight tracks to the west side of the road, making it safer for WAVE Transit operations and users, as well as all other forms of mobility in the area. 

With the inclusion of the additional improvements, the project would:

  • Enhance the roadway from two to four lanes
  • Add a multi-use path for better connectivity
  • Relocate the railroad tracks to the west side of the road, eliminating two public road crossings
  • Remove the rail from running through the middle of the road, effectively building a portion of the Rail Realignment Project

This project would significantly improve community safety, mobility, as well as the operational fluidity of the railroad which serves as an economic development engine for the region.  

Here is an outline of how it could be accomplished: 

  • Widening: The NCDOT is in the preliminary engineering phase to widen S. Front Street from two to four lanes – from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to Burnett Boulevard. 
  • Rail Realignment: The City would provide funding and would work collaboratively with NCDOT to implement a design for the project which would relocate the tracks used to serve the industries north of the Port to the west side of S. Front Street. Moving the tracks would eliminate two public at-grade rail crossings and the center running rail between Marstellar and Meares streets. Each weekday there are an estimated 4 to 8 train movements taking place across these tracks, so moving this section of the railroad would make it safer and more efficient for vehicular traffic, Wave Transit vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and the freight movements.  
  • Multi-use Path: As part of the design, a multi-use path along the east side of S. Front Street would be built, allowing for better connectivity to the pedestrian and cycling networks as well as the Wave Transit stop just north of Laughing Oak Lane. 

To make the project “shovel ready,” sales tax proceeds would also help acquire strategic portions of right-of-way and fund engineering design. The city and county would also seek to use the sales tax proceeds to leverage state and federal funds to then break ground on the construction of the project. 

As an example, the city and county could utilize $5 million in local funding from the sales tax, request and receive $5 million in state funding as a match, and then leverage that $10 million in non-federal contribution to receive up to $50 million in discretionary federal funding – thus turning a $5 million local contribution into a $60 million local investment with state and federal funds. 

Long Term: Full Rail Realignment Project 

The longer-term goal would be to take proceeds from the sales tax to prepare and enable the Rail Realignment Project for construction.

Local funding would continue to be used as leverage for grants and other state and federal funds to ensure this project could be accomplished. 

Historically, across the state, this type of sales tax has been used to enable funding for large-scale, transformative transportation projects that do not qualify as highway projects. Over 90% of all NCDOT spending is allocated to highway construction and maintenance, leaving comparatively little funding left to fund changes and improvements to other transportation modes.

A sales tax has been a tool for other local governments to make big, meaningful changes to local non-highway transportation networks.  

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