Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
The 1.5-mile Airlie Road was designated North Carolina’s 57th Scenic Byway on Dec. 5 by the North Carolina Board of Transportation.
Wrightsville Sound’s Airlie Road has officially been named the 57th site of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byways Program.
On Aug. 21, 2012, Wilmington City Council approved a resolution requesting NCDOT recognize the corridor and on Thursday, Dec. 5, the North Carolina Board of Transportation approved the designation.
NCDOT Scenic Byway Program coordinator Jeff Lackey said Airlie Road was approved based on its natural beauty.
“Even though it is one and a half miles in length, the views to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway are incredible,” Lackey said. “You have a tremendous live oak canopy with Spanish moss pretty much throughout the entire corridor, there are transitional spaces where you not only have views of the waterway but also pastoral views, historic architecture, and not to mention the fact that you have Airlie Gardens right there.”
Wrightsville Beach Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson also serves as the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen’s liaison to the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Committee and said he thinks the designation would bring deserved attention to Airlie.
“I think Airlie is a jewel in the crown of New Hanover County and we ought to keep it that way,” Sisson said. “It makes you feel better if you drive down that way.”
While Airlie Road may be one of 57, Lackey said it is unique among the other coastal routes designated.
“When you think of coastal routes you normally don’t get the enclosure but there are parts of that road where there are probably 300- to- 400-year-old live oaks there in the canopy,” he said. “On all of [the other coastal scenic byways] there are none that have that quality.”
The designation does carry federal and state grant opportunities with it, but Lackey said that funding has been limited recently with the reorganization of aspects of North Carolina’s transportation organizations. However, Lackey said the designation would allow Airlie Road to be included in NCDOT’s marketing campaign.
“One of the big things is it will be part of our Scenic Byways book, which is a guide we pretty much send all over the world,” he said. “Not only that, it will also be part of the marketing we do for our byway program statewide as well.”
While this added marketing could benefit the area, Sisson said he was curious to see if it would negatively impact the traffic flow on Airlie.
“If there is a downside to it for Wrightsville Beach, it is the possibility for it to draw more traffic onto Airlie, which could create some more issues for us at the intersection with Wrightsville Avenue,” Sisson said.
The NCDOT currently has plans in place to perform a traffic study of the Wrightsville Avenue and Airlie Road intersection that could help manage any additional traffic. The town of Wrightsville Beach requested the study in November and NCDOT is waiting for approval by other local organizations like the WMPO Transportation Advisory Committee.
WMPO executive director Mike Kozlosky said it was the WMPO that initiated the push for Airlie Road to be designated until Wilmington City Council submitted the application in 2012.
Along with Airlie Road, Kozlosky said there are two other Scenic Byways within the WMPO’s jurisdiction, including U.S. Highway 133 in Brunswick County and the Wilmington Downtown Scenic Byway, which was the first urban Scenic Byway to earn the state designation.
The new designation will not change the appearance of the Airlie Road corridor other than the Scenic Byways signage, Lackey said. In the case of future developments along the corridor, the NCDOT will focus on protecting the current nature of the roadway.
“Any new construction that goes through there is subject to a policy where we try to look at what we call context sensitive design,” he said. “Normally what happens is I will work with our engineers to minimize impacts to the corridor.”
Motorists can expect to see the Scenic Byway signage pop up on Airlie Road sometime around the beginning of 2014.