Documents for planned Outer Banks bridge delayed again
By William F. West
The Daily Advance
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
CURRITUCK — Further delays have again postponed the release of a document spelling environmental impacts, construction dates and financing for a new bridge to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The N.C. Turnpike Authority is still hoping to receive the record of decision on the seven-mile Mid-Currituck Bridge project before winter, said Carly Olexik, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The toll bridge would run between U.S. 158 east of Elizabeth City near Aydlett to N.C. 12 south of Corolla. The long-anticipated project would be the third bridge to the Outer Banks, joining spans near Nags Head and Kitty Hawk.
“We continue to work with our federal partners to update the environmental documents,” Olexik said about potential ecological impacts on Currituck Sound and other areas.
Currituck County Manager Dan Scanlon said in August that N.C. Department of Transportation officials had advised the county they expected to have the record of decision by October.
That was a delay from April, which is when Gretchen Byrum, an NCDOT Division 1 project development engineer based in Edenton, had said in August 2017 the record of decision would be released.
In April, NCDOT Transportation Division 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings told Currituck commissioners the record of decision would be released in the summer.
Generally, a record of decision spells out, in detail, the scope and costs of a transportation project. The Mid-Currituck Bridge has been estimated to cost $489 million. DOT officials have said the bridge will be tolled but have not released details on how much the toll will cost motorists.
Despite the delay in releasing the record of decision, Olexik said it’s still possible that construction of the bridge could begin in the summer or fall of 2020 and be complete by 2024.
Reached last week, Currituck Board of Commissioners Chairman Bobby Hanig said he wasn’t worried that release of the bridge’s record of decision had been delayed again.
“It’s just the wheels of government,” Hanig said. “What do you do? You grin and bear it.”
Hanig, who last week was elected to the state Legislature representing House District 6, also said he’s not concerned about the bridge’s financing.
“I think the funding is there. I think that the bridge is going to come in,” he said. “I think we’re going to be in fine shape — it’s just the wheels of government slow down sometimes, unfortunately.”
Currituck Commissioner Bob White, whose district includes Corolla, also said he’s not concerned about the delayed release of the record of decision.
“I’m not overly concerned,” he said. “Everybody seems to be a go on it. So, hopefully, that will be good.”
Proponents of the Mid-Currituck Bridge say the long-delayed span would help ease traffic congestion on U.S. 158 in lower Currituck and on N.C. 12 in both Currituck and Dare counties during the summer months. They also say the bridge would speed up evacuations of the Outer Banks prior to the arrival of hurricanes and nor’easters.
Currituck County’s Economic Development Commission has also posted an online video featuring officials with county emergency management, the Kitty Hawk Police Department and the State Highway Patrol pointing out how the bridge would improve response times for public safety personnel. The video can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cbJc6-DeuU.
Opponents of the Mid-Currituck Bridge, however, want NCDOT to consider traffic improvements to the intersection of U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 that don’t include building the bridge. NCDOT said earlier this year that a proposed interchange at the intersection was one of the top-scoring projects in its State Transportation Improvement Plan for 2020-29.
Opponents also want to see minimal widening of N.C. 12 going northward from U.S. 158. They would rather see DOT convert signaled intersections on the road to roundabouts.
Asked what he hears from constituents about the Mid-Currituck Bridge project, White chuckled and said, “It depends on who you ask.”
Asked if views on the bridge are evenly split, he said he no longer thinks so.
“I don’t know that I could put it in a stat for you, but I think there’s more for (the bridge) than against,” he said. “They realize that it’s going to help them, especially if they own a property that’s in a rental program. The businesses there are going to have more year-round customers.”
Asked why Outer Bank residents’ attitudes about the bridge have changed, White suggested development has played a role.
“Well, Corolla has changed irrevocably just because of development,” he said. “So, we don’t have any more room for development, if you think about it. The land is pretty much built out.”
White, who operates an off-road tour business on the Currituck Outer Banks, said more residents now see the Mid-Currituck Bridge as something that would provide them with more amenities and give the Outer Banks’ economy a boost.
“We can’t find employees or get employees to come to work for us,” he said. “They don’t want to commute that far. I mean, would you want to drive an hour and a half if you could get a job that was much closer? Most people would say ‘no,’ unless it was for more money.”