US$600 million for Cape Fear bridge replacement?

An estimate of up to US$600 million has been suggested for North Carolina’s Cape Fear bridge replacement.
Finance & Funding / February 14, 2024 1 minute Read
By MJ Woof
Replacing North Carolina’s landmark Cape Fear bridge could cost US$500 but could be paid for in part by tolling – image courtesy of © Amy Dover|

Replacing the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge in North Carolina could cost up to US$600 million according to estimates. Tolling the new bridge by $2/user could raise as much as $359 million in a 35-year period according to research. The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to research tolling as the funding solution to replacing the bridge.

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge opened to vehicles in 1969 and is becoming costly to maintain, given the traffic load it has to cope with. A new structure will be needed to carry the increasingly busy roads but opinions vary as to how this will be paid for and no decisions have yet been made.

The steel vertical-lift bridge carries US 17, US 76 and US 421 over the Cape Fear River, connecting Brunswick County with New Hanover County. The bridge features an unusual design, with a 408m lift span that can be raised by 41m, allowing vessels travelling to and from the nearby Port of Wilmington to pass underneath.

Traffic estimates suggest that the bridge will be carrying up to 85,000 vehicles/day by 2045, which the structure will be unable to cope with. Extensive maintenance work is commencing on the structure at present and is being managed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) but the bridge has limits on its capacity. Maintenance will need to be carried out every six to eight years and will become increasingly costly as traffic volumes grow.

The design of the new bridge will have to allow for vessels to pass underneath. Whether this will be a raised suspension bridge or cable stayed design, or a bascule type structure able to open for shipping, remains to be seen. The proposals are for a new bridge with up to three lanes in either direction, as well as facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. The new bridge may also be required to carry rail traffic. 

​According to NCDOT, the preservation project to extend the life of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is requiring temporary closures of portions of the link in 2024. While NCDOT points out that the bridge is safe, the structure is reaching the end of its lifecycle and must be monitored, inspected and maintained on a more frequent basis. Daily inspections of the bridge  have shown the need to conduct longer-lasting improvements. The work will repair the moveable grid deck and the beams that support it. This work is expected to be complete in spring 2024.​

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