Secretary Jim Trogdon, P.E.
North Carolina Department of Transportation
Office of the Secretary
1501 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1501
Dear Secretary Trogdon:
Congratulations on your recent appointment as Transportation Secretary for North
Carolina. We are a group of concerned citizens writing to ask you to take a fresh look at the
proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge. Our group, No Mid-Currituck Bridge (“NoMCB”), is
comprised of residents and visitors from both the Currituck mainland and the Currituck
Outer Banks. We began meeting as a group in 2010 and, since that time, have held
community meetings to share information about the proposed bridge, voice our opposition,
and construct alternative solutions.
We write today to ask that you seriously consider a newly developed alternative submitted
by our group to your Department in December. This alternative, a summary of which is
attached, stems from our in-depth experience as to the true transportation concerns in
Currituck County and the Northern Outer Banks. The solutions we proposed were further
developed by transportation expert Walter Kulash, who has over 45 years’ experience in
transportation engineering. We believe the alternative would alleviate traffic congestion
on NC 12 without the high fiscal and environmental cost of the bridge.
Recent findings by NCDOT demonstrate that now is the time to consider a new alternative
to the bridge. Funding for the bridge, with cost estimates ranging up to $678 million,
appears to be in serious doubt. Only $173 million has been set aside from the project from
the STI—leaving the balance to be paid for by tolls. But with DOT’s projections of future
traffic now severely diminished we do not believe that drivers will be willing to pay a toll
high enough (based on some estimates, as high as $50 for a one-way trip) to make the
bridge financially viable. North Carolina’s scarce transportation resources should be more
As you know, the proposed bridge would cross the fragile and ecologically significant
Currituck Sound, which continues to deteriorate because of development in southeastern
Virginia. The Sound has historically been one of the most significant spots for wintering
waterfowl on the east coast, and it is cherished for the recreational opportunities it
provides. The bridge’s construction and use would harm the Sound in an unacceptable
In addition to our serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the bridge, we are
also concerned about the effect the bridge would have on the natural resources and
character of the Currituck mainland and the Outer Banks. The bridge would induce
development in a way that has not been properly studied and accounted for. In addition to
development, the bridge would also attract more visitors, including day-trippers from
southeastern Virginia. This increased development and visitation would place an
unsustainable strain on the land and natural resources of our small barrier island.
Our group represents part of the strong opposition to the Mid-Currituck Bridge on both the
Currituck mainland and the Outer Banks. We hope that your department takes the time to
take a thoughtful look at whether this costly and controversial project is truly the best
solution. We urge you to consider our new alternative. We would be happy to meet with
you to further discuss our concerns at your convenience.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.– Local residents and property owners from the Currituck mainland and the northern Outer Banks sent a letter today to Secretary of Transportation, Jim Trogdon, asking him to look at a more affordable and less damaging solution to traffic congestion in the Northern Outer Banks than the proposed $678 million Mid-Currituck Bridge .
No Mid-Currituck Bridge, a group comprised of local residents and visitors, asked Secretary Trogdon to study a suite of alternative solutions submitted by the group that includes minimal road widening along key congested stretches of NC 12, a redesigned interchange between NC 12 and 158, and the conversion of signalized intersections to roundabouts.
The $678 million proposed bridge would cross the sensitive Currituck Sound between mainland Currituck County and Corolla on the Outer Banks.
Residents of those areas and visitors who wrestle with beach traffic, provided consultation and suggestions for the alternative solution developed under the guidance of an experienced transportation expert.
The proposal also includes programs designed to reduce transportation demand, such as incentives for staggered check-out days at vacation rental homes, and an “electronic key” program that would eliminate unnecessary trips to centralized vacation rental offices.
The alternative solution was designed to ease peak congestion days, which occur primarily on summer weekends, at drastically less cost to taxpayers and the environment than the proposed bridge. This approach also could be implemented much sooner than the proposed bridge.
By contrast, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has been unable to present a viable financial plan to pay for its proposed $678 million bridge. Last fall, NCDOT’s own analysis showed a drop in long-term traffic expectations. Less traffic would mean less toll revenue, which the state is relying on as a primary means of financing the pricey project.
No Mid-Currituck Bridge is comprised of residents of and visitors to the Currituck mainland and Outer Banks who oppose the Mid-Currituck Bridge. NoMCB strives to protect the unique natural environment of the Currituck mainland and the Outer Banks that hundreds of thousands of visitors come to experience and enjoy every year.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
Summary of Proposed Alternative to Mid-Currituck Bridge
The Proposed Alternative would:
Make it easier for vehicles on US 158 to access businesses and neighborhoods.
Create a “flyover” at the US 158/NC 12 intersection and a “superstreet” segment on US 158.
Widen NC 12 to three lanes with a two-way-left-turn-lane from the Wright Memorial Bridge to Duck.
Replace all traffic signals on NC 12 north of the Wright Memorial Bridge with roundabouts.
Additional Elements Include:
Develop a plan to stagger check-in check-out times at rental properties throughout the week.
Institute a plan to increase electronic keys for rentals, eliminating travel to and from rental agency offices.
For US 158: Conduct a comprehensive study that will evaluate, among other things, the need for additional traffic signals and improved timing of traffic signals.
Develop a plan for adding roundabouts on NC 12 at locations that currently do not have traffic signals.
Provide manned traffic control to speed up traffic flow at key intersections during peak periods of traffic.
Develop a plan for more connectivity between local streets and NC 12.
Consolidate driveways along NC 12.
Develop a traffic advice app for visitors, showing a profile of congestion, providing congestion alerts, and estimated travel times.
One potential area of expansion for the North Carolina ferry system would be to connect Inner Banks communities with those on the Outer Banks, a state official says.
Chuck Hefren, of the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division, believes expanding the ferry system beyond the seven routes now in operation on the state’s Outer Banks could be accomplished through a public-private partnership.
Hefren, who addressed local officials during a meeting Friday in Edenton, said it could be worthwhile to use passenger ferries, for example, to increase access to locations such as Edenton. More visitors could lead to increased revenue for both the state and local governments, Hefren said.
The Edenton waterfront is ready to receive ferry traffic if a ferry route were established to the town, he said.
Building the additional ferry vessels in North Carolina would also be great for the state, Hefren said, echoing comments by two boat-builders who attended Friday’s meeting. Currently the state operates 22 ferry vessels.
Hefren also said if the private sector were to operate ferries on the sounds of the state, state officials could require that those ferry vessels used be built in North Carolina.
Joseph McClees, a lobbyist representing a number of counties in the region, said the ferries are a well-kept secret and need to be promoted better by the state.
“It’s an asset,” McClees said of the ferry system.
The ferries are also a potential tourist destination, McClees said. People could come to the state to ride the ferries if they were better-publicized, he said.
McClees also believes tourists could come to the Inner Banks region and then use ferries to visit the Outer Banks.
Susan Beckwith of the Inner Banks Inn said water taxis such as those used in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor could also be used to benefit the Inner Banks region.
Michael Reardon, a boat builder who attended Friday’s meeting, also mentioned the possibility of adding a couple of ocean-class ferries to the system to run, say, from Cape May, New Jersy to Nags Head. That could operated as a public-private partnership, he said.
Wit Tuttle of Visit NC urged Hefren to consider the various roles ferries play in different locations, from serving tourists to helping commuters get to work.
“Each ferry route is kind of a different beast,” Tuttle said.
He pointed out that some ferries carry mostly local residents while others serve large numbers of visitors. In certain locations there are no alternatives to the ferry, he added.
Hefren said the state needs to consider return on investment. From that standpoint it could be possible to justify more spending on ferry infrastructure, he said.
Hefren said that if the revenue generated by an increase in visitors turned out to be more than would be raised by an increase in ferry fares, then that can be part of the report he presents to the General Assembly.
Hefren also mentioned the possibility of using the marine transportation system to relieve some of the traffic congestion to the Northern Outer Banks. He also put forward the idea of using ferries as a way to help workers on the Outer Banks’ hospitality industry get to their jobs from their homes in Inner Banks communities.
After the main meeting Friday a smaller contingent remained to hear a presentation on a study by Nicholas Didow, a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, proposing that a privately funded passenger ferry on the Albemarle Sound could be profitable.
The study projects an annual ridership beginning the first year of 107,000, a $13.8 million capital expenditure upfront and annual operating expenses of $1.95 million. The ferry has the potential to be profitable in the first year, according to the study.
An estimated 94 jobs would be created and the study estimates the tourism impact at $14 million.
October 5, 2012 Report to J.L.T.O.C.: $651 million. Note: Cost jumps back up $101 million.
2013 N.C. Turnpike Authority Annual Report: Preliminary cost estimates for the project are between $470M and $600M. Note: Cost drops $51 million.
2013 S.T.I.P. $586,140,000
2014 Annual Report N.C. Turnpike Authority: New legislation was passed in North Carolina (House Bill 817-An Act to Strengthen the Economy through Strategic Transportation Investments) and was signed into law on June 26, 2013. The new law includes the creation of the Strategic Mobility Formula and includes changes to the annual appropriations (GAP funds) dedicated to the NCTA projects. The Strategic Mobility Formula is a new way to fund and prioritize transportation projects to ensure they provide the maximum benefit to the State of North Carolina. The annual appropriation of $49 million for the Triangle Expressway ($25 million) and Monroe Bypass ($24 million) projects remains under the new law while the annual appropriations for the Mid-Currituck Bridge and Garden Parkway projects were removed.
November 2014 the federally approved STIP cited a cost of $621 million. Note: Cost jumps back up $35 million.
2015 N.C. Turnpike Authority Annual Report: No cost estimate provided.
December 3, 2015 S.T.I.P. $439,985,000
There are many concerned citizens and vacationers that support the SELC in their efforts against Mid-Currituck Bridge, an unnecessary, extremely expensive, and environmentally damaging project.
The cost of the project has ranged from $750 million in a 2010 Letter of Interest for a federal T.I.F.I.A. loan to a “normalized cost” of $410 million for scoring purposes only during the P3.0 process. As recently as November 2014 the federally approved STIP cited a cost of $621 million. One month later the new draft STIP listed the cost at $475 million, $65 million more than the cost used for scoring. Now the NCDOT claims the project cost is $435 million. The Public Private Partnership has been cancelled and the annual $28 million per year “gap” funding has been removed from state statute. The NCDOT has not explained the drastic $200 million drop in the price tag so that’s why the lawsut.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The schedule for constructing the controversial Mid-Currituck Bridge—an expensive and environmentally destructive seven mile toll-bridge that would connect the Outer Banks town of Corolla with mainland Currituck County—has again been delayed. Last week, the North Carolina Department of Transportation confirmed that the project’s schedule was pushed back as the agency continues to study the need for the bridge and the viability of alternative solutions after new data showed a drastically reduced traffic forecast. The governor previously announced last November that the bridge project had been accelerated and construction would begin in the summer of 2017.
Representing a group of local citizens opposing the bridge, the Southern Environmental Law Center welcomed the news that NCDOT will not rush forward with the $678 million project. “We’re encouraged that NCDOT is taking the time to consider whether the Mid-Currituck Bridge is really the best transportation solution for Currituck County,” said Kym Hunter, an attorney with the law center. “If NCDOT really takes a thorough look at this project based on current data we’re convinced that they’ll conclude it’s a long-outdated idea that would waste the area’s transportation dollars while causing significant environmental harm.”
New data obtained by SELC from NCDOT suggests that the delay might stem from questions about the need for the bridge and its financial viability. The new data show that future traffic volumes on the Northern Outer Banks are now estimated to be significantly lower than previously anticipated by NCDOT—in some instances almost half of earlier estimates. The new data raise serious concerns about the fiscal burden that will be placed on taxpayers if NCDOT moves ahead with the bridge. The bridge ranked low under the state transportation scoring system and only $173 million has been set aside to pay for the costly project. New estimates, however, place the expected cost of the bridge at up to $678 million—meaning that over $500 million may need to be covered by drivers paying tolls. With the new traffic numbers showing dramatically lower expected usage of the bridge it seems unlikely this revenue will materialize, raising questions as to who will pick up the tab. So far, NCDOT has failed to present any financial path forward for the project.
“Not only will the Mid-Currituck Bridge destroy the character of Currituck County, it will place an immense financial burden on coastal taxpayers” said Jen Symonds, leader of NoMCB, a local citizens group that has long opposed the bridge. “NCDOT’s new numbers confirm what we’ve been saying for years, the bridge is a colossal waste of taxpayer money. Coastal residents, visitors and taxpayers would be better served by smart, focused improvements to the existing highway system.” When NCDOT last studied the bridge tolls were estimated to be as high as $26 for a one way trip. Now that estimated use of the bridge has diminished so significantly tolls might need to be as high as $50 per trip to come close to paying for the pricey project. ###
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of more than 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
New climate change guidelines make for better decision-making
Today the Obama Administration released guidelines on how federal agencies should consider climate change when assessing proposed projects.
The guidelines, which apply to all federal projects reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act, will impact decisions involving everything from transportation projects to power plants, pipelines, and oil drilling. Until now federal agencies have been inconsistent in how they considered climate change in project reviews, often ignoring it completely.
When reviewing any new project, the agencies must consider both the direct and indirect impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. For a proposed new highway, for example, federal agencies will need to consider the greenhouse gas impacts of building the highway, as well as the emissions that would result from additional sprawl or traffic. Perhaps most significantly in informing decision-making, agencies are now required to quantify and compare the climate changing effect of different alternatives, allowing the public an easy way to see which alternatives will have the least impact.
“This guidance will allow us to better tackle the challenges of climate change,” said Kym Hunter, attorney in SELC’s Chapel Hill office. “But it also provides greater transparency and more information to help make decisions about where our limited federal dollars are spent. These guidelines give all taxpayers a better accounting of the impacts and costs of federal projects.”
In addition to transportation, the guidelines have significant implications for coastal spending and development. The guidance specifically refers to transportation projects on coastal barrier islands, such as proposed bridges in the Outer Banks, and directs agencies to consider the consequences of rebuilding with sea level rise and more intense storms. It also discusses how chemical facilities near the coast could have increased risk of spills or leakages, putting local communities at risk.
While draft versions of the guidelines had set a greenhouse gas emissions threshold to trigger consideration—something SELC urged against—the final version removed that and now requires climate change analysis for all projects.
“We know Southeastern coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, so this is a huge step forward for better decision making in our region,” said Hunter. “Just asking the question of how each project will affect and be affected by climate change could lead to better decisions about transportation, coastal development, and energy production.”