WILMINGTON, N.C. — The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is currently undergoing repairs to increase its longevity, but the North Carolina Department of Transportation says the bridge will still need replacing in the near future. 

The NCDOT says this project would cost around $435 million. Now, there’s a chance drivers crossing the bridge could pay a toll to help fund that replacement — something communities on both sides of the bridge are unhappy about.

Related: Taking a toll: Local leaders worry about the future of Cape Fear Memorial Bridge

What You Need To Know

  • The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge would cost around $435 million and may require a toll option to help fund the project

  • On Jan. 31, the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on whether or not to accept a toll as an option 

  • If the board votes yes, this would be for scoring purposes only and would not commit the project to being a toll facility

Many folks from both New Hanover and Brunswick counties gathered in Dram Tree Park Monday evening to rally against the potential toll.

Organizations like the New Hanover County Democratic Party, Brunswick County Democratic Party, Speak Ya Peace NC and other organizations were there to share their grievances.  

(Spectrum News 1/Natalie Mooney)

“It’s a disservice to the community to have a toll,” said Mahlaynee Cooper, founder of Speak Ya Peace NC. "The fact that so many people are struggling just to be able to put food on the table, most people are working two and a half jobs.”

Many in attendance were wondering why the project isn’t funded by the state, including local community activist, Lily Nicole.

“I would like the state to step up and alleviate the burden of the regular man, and the regular woman, and the regular worker,” Nicole said. “We genuinely need help here. We’re already fighting for our livelihood, a lot of our workers are fighting for a living wage, a lot of our individuals are already fighting the commercial development. Why do we need to worry about infrastructure as well?”

The NCDOT, however, says that accepting a toll as an option would increase the likelihood of receiving grants for the project.

(Spectrum News 1/Natalie Mooney)

The Strategic Transportation Investments Law established a strategic mobility formula, which uses data scoring to identify projects that will receive funding during a 10-year period. 

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement project did not score high enough in prioritization 6.0 to receive funding. With a toll as an option, there’s a chance it could score higher in prioritization 7.0.  

The NCDOT also says that it recently submitted an application for a federal grant of around $235 million.  All federal grants must be matched between 20% and 50% by the grantee. The project is not currently funded so there is no match, therefore, no potential for federal funding. 

Chad Kimes, division engineer for the NCDOT, says accepting a toll as option could help increase potential funding opportunities.

“We can use that application that this area is looking at potential tolls so that could be a potential funding source for that match,” said Kimes. “If that goes away, then the possibility of that grant could go away as well.”

Wilmington’s mayor, and one of the 13 members of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization, Bill Saffo, delivered a passionate speech against these potential tolls, saying this is one of the most important decisions that will be made in the next 100 years in this community.

Saffo encouraged people to get the word out so that those voting on the matter know where the people they’re serving stand.

The community came together in opposition of the tolls. (Spectrum News 1/Natalie Mooney)

“They have to hear our voices, you have to get out emails, you have to get on the phone, you have to tell your friends,” said Saffo. “Because this will happen, we have to stand up, because if we don’t, they’ll toll us, and they will toll us to death.”

The Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on whether or not to accept a toll as an option at the board’s regular meeting, on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

If the board votes yes, this would be for scoring purposes only and would not commit the project to being a toll facility. The WMPO will also have time to withdraw any approval of a toll option.