The Pender community’s bypass should start construction later this year, but improvements to U.S. 17 through Hampstead have been delayed

PENDER COUNTY -- When it comes to roads in Hampstead, there’s good news and bad news.


Of the first, the Hampstead Bypass project is still on track and on schedule, with the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) making land acquisitions that will make the road possible and preparing for the release of bid proposal requests penciled in for July.


Construction of the long-anticipated 13-mile, four-lane highway around the growing community should begin “not long after,” according to Pender Commissioner David Piepmeyer, who also serves on the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). That board helps sets transportation priorities for the region, and has been pushing for the Hampstead Bypass for years.


The new bypass, to be dubbed N.C. 417, will run from north of Hampstead near the Holly Shelter Game Land roughly paralleling the existing U.S. 17 before joining the Military Cutoff Road extension, which is currently under construction, at Interstate 140 in New Hanover County.


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But the news isn’t as positive for the other major Hampstead transportation project -- the plan to turn the existing U.S. 17 through the fast-growing Pender coastal community into a “Superstreet.”


The $16 million, 5-mile median project was slated to begin this year. When it gets closer to the top of DOT’s to-do list, it will essentially eliminate every left-hand turn along the roadway except those at designated, signaled interchanges. The DOT has already installed the “Superstreet” concept along U.S. 17 through Scotts Hill and in Leland, Brunswick County, and plans to do so along much of Market Street in Wilmington.


But that project, with work now not slated to start until 2027.


“We had to make some tough choices,” Piepmeyer said of both organizations on which he serves. Ultimately, both the Pender commissioners and the MPO agreed to DOT’s delay of the median project in order to save the more-necessary bypass.


The DOT has been inundated with competing projects, Piepmeyer noted, and has, in recent times, been hammered by expenses associated with Hurricanes Matthew, Florence and Dorian. The state agency has not only had to repair roads around the state, including nearly every road coming into Wilmington, but the huge debris-removal and cleanup has also fallen to its budget, he added.


Something had to give: In this part of the state, it was the Hampstead “Superstreet.”


“NCDOT has some concerns with money,” said George Brown, chairman of the Pender commissioners. “The bypass is still a go, and if I had to lose one of them, I’d rather lose (the Supestreet).”


Safety is the whole idea behind the “Superstreet” concept, and both Pender officials said they support it.


“I think that project is necessary,” Brown said, “but I think the bypass kind of overshadowed that as far as need is concerned. But with the financial constraints NCDOT is under, it did not surprise me to see some of these projects get moved to the curb.”


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