Stop-and-go: Wilmington leaders look for money for new South Third Street traffic lights

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A push to add traffic lights at two intersections along Wilmington’s South Third Street is gaining traction and, possibly, funding.

Residents living along a roughly half-mile stretch of South Third Street from Castle to Market streets have for decades expressed concerns about pedestrian and driver safety in the area. But, in recent months, conversations between neighbors evolved into a larger advocacy effort when residents started compiling traffic data and discussing ways to address safety issues with transportation leaders.

Following a site visit and meeting with residents, the North Carolina Department of Transportation released a memo earlier this year that supports installing new traffic lights where South Third Street intersects with Ann and Orange streets. Despite support for the new traffic signals, no money had been set aside to pay for their installation, according to the memo.

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That could now be changing. At its Tuesday meeting, the Wilmington City Council unanimously approved a resolution that will allow City Manager Tony Caudle to apply for a $2.4 million grant from the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to fund the project.

If the project is funded, the city of Wilmington will provide a required match of 20% of the total amount, which is more than $411,000. The other 80% of the funding would come from federal money. The project isn’t in the city’s capital improvement plan but will be added as a priority in the 2024/2025 fiscal year if funded.

Denis McGarry, a resident along South Third Street, said he has his fingers crossed the funding will go through. Grant applications must be submitted by September 15, but it’s unclear when the funded projects will be announced.

Although traffic and pedestrian safety has troubled neighbors in the area for years, advocating for action on the issue started picking up steam when residents began collecting data, McGarry said. 

“People can sit there and say this has been a problem for years,” he said. “When you start looking at the data, and you see how many accidents are occurring, it (makes) it more tangible for the government officials to deal with.”

The stretch of road, for example, sees approximately 15,000 vehicles each day. In 2020, those six blocks of South Third Street saw 55 reported car accidents. In 2021, the stretch saw 52 accidents.

McGarry said he views installing new traffic signals as a public safety measure. He notes that every intersection on North Third Street between Market and Red Cross streets has a traffic signal. “You have the same amount of traffic coming down South Third as North Third, but yet you have a much more difficult time getting across South Third than North Third,” he said.

An online petition that’s collected more than 670 signatures has continued to grow since the advocacy effort got started. The petition asks the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Wilmington City Council to consider installing traffic lights at South Third Street intersections between Castle and Market streets to limit property damage and improve pedestrian safety.

McGarry said he’s hopeful the project will get funding because he believes the area’s growing population could add to traffic congestion and safety concerns along South Third Street.

“The reality is, as the city continues to grow,” he said, “the traffic on South Third is just going to become even greater and so the odds of accidents are just going to increase.”

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or