A portion of the 10' foot wide multi-use path already completed on the south side of Cape Fear Blvd. Signs installed to tell people not to drive on the path.
By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - Carolina Beach Councilman Steve Shuttleworth asked about a long standing delay for completing a multi-use bike and pedestrian path along Cape Fear Blvd. The majority of the ten foot wide asphalt path is complete. A small portion from 6th Street to Dow Road remains incomplete.
Cramer explained, "As you will remember we have gone through the process of trying to get grants associated to that and the grants come with their own strings attached. The strings tend to be time. We've been awarded the grants but trying to get through the Federal and State bureaucracy to get through and receive funding and authorization to move forward on the project has taken an extensive amount of time."
Cramer explained, "We are anticipating at this point, we should be through the North Carolina Department of Transportation approval process in July. We will go out to bid some time in August. Hoping for construction to start in October. Honestly, it will only take approximately three months to do the little strip of asphalt work that has to be done. It will go very fast once we get it in place."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "It's three blocks. Ten feet wide. Two and a half years. We got the grant two and a half years ago." He said, "I'm at a loss to understand... I do have citizens that live along Cape Fear Blvd that say to me, my front yard has been torn up for two years waiting for a ten foot strip of asphalt."
Shuttleworth asked, "I know we've pledged different times. What makes us think that this time-line is going to be any more adhered to than the last two we quoted?"
Cramer explained, "I can't really trust this estimate anymore than I trust the last couple. They come with those time constraints attached. The time constraints come from the State and DOT and also from the Federal Government that gives the money to the States so we have to follow their particular process and they tend to really like to cross their T's and dot their I's. We negotiated with them. The WMPO (Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization) and Councilman Gary Doetsch has been very helpful in trying to break through some of that bureaucracy. The most recent meeting that we had about a week or so ago seems still to be stuck on the time-line that they have held to. We can't seem to push them any faster than they'll go."
Cramer said there is one alternative that would speed up the project. He said, "The only way that we could go faster in a project like this is to fund it ourselves an not have to worry about the grants."
Doetsch represents the Town on the WMPO and said, "On the WMPO, we have also scheduled a workshop with the state folks to try to get through some of these, I guess hoops, we have to jump through continuously. I understand with some of this there are Federal requirements. We are not the only ones having the same problem. The City of Leland is struggling trying to get a project done. The workshop will be about how can we expedite the work and can we get all the players to the table on the first meeting whenever these projects are discussed and then that way everybody understands who is responsible for what and then nothing changes down the road."
Shuttleworth said, "I understand. In talking to Jerry Haire [Project manager for the Town] first he tells me you have to give them twenty-five percent drawings, they have to review those, then they go back for fifty percent draws... then ninety percent drawings. We're not building an overpass right?" He explained, "It's a ten foot wide asphalt strip!"
Doetsch said, "We brought that to their attention that we are building a bike path or greenway trail. They understood it's not a freeway or interstate but they didn't have much to offer us."
Shuttleworth said the amount of work involved with the project deducts from the amount of time that Haire can work on other projects such as obtaining grants for infrastructure improvements. He said, "Is it really worth the grant money for two and a half years to have a neighborhood torn up, an incomplete project and devote this kind of staff time? The next time we look at it we need to take those things into consideration."
Cramer explained, "I do expect that if we go out for these types of grants in the future, we will have a much better understanding of how long it will take to get through it and then determine whether or not there is a cost benefit to us doing it ourselves and getting it over with."
Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin said, "We're not alone... there are about 30 communities out there that are in the same situation. It was new for DOT on how this money is being handed down and it was new for the MPO. Yes, these first 30 were stuck but moving forward the MPO has been great with helping to facilitate and make changes." He added, "Ours and one in Wilmington are the ones that are moving the fastest."
Doetsch said one problem is the grants will not allow Town's to do the work and then request reimbursement at a later date.
Shuttleworth said, "Staff has done everything they can. It's just, manage the expectations with the public because as we move through and look at Harper Avenue and we look at other places. We're talking about a bike network of trails around the Town. In fairness to Michael, he's told us this is the fourth time we've been told we will have a delivery in a certain amount of time. It just undermines your credibility and the public is getting to the point where they look at the five of us and ask, do you guys know what's going on?"
Cramer said, "I hate not to give an answer, so I give you what I know at the time and it changes."