By William F. West
The Daily Advance
Monday, August 28, 2017
An attorney for the environmental group opposing construction of the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge said a lawsuit is an option to block it.
“It’s definitely not off the table,” Kym Hunter, an attorney in the Chapel Hill office of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Southern Environmental Law Center, said recently.
Local officials apparently think so too.
During a recent meeting of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Chamber President Josh Bass said he believes the Southern Environmental Law Center will file suit to stop the bridge project.
Allen Moran, new N.C. Department of Transportation Division 1 board member, was asked about Bass’ assertion. He, too, thinks the SELC lawsuit on the bridge project is likely.
“If not to stop it, to maybe change it, yes,” Moran said.
The N.C. Department of Transportation’s statewide master plan calls for a proposed seven-mile, tolled crossing over the Currituck Sound between Aydlett and Corolla. NCDOT has estimated the cost of the project at $489 million and anticipates releasing a record of decision on the project by next April. The record of decision is generally considered the final step in the process of preparing an environmental impact statement for a road project.
Hunter said any decision about whether there will be lawsuit on the bridge project will depend on whether NCDOT complies with the law.
“And that we don’t know yet because they haven’t completed all their environmental documents,” she said. “So, that will be something that we will have to determine at the appropriate time.”
Asked what laws specifically NCDOT needs to follow, Hunter said they include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Coastal Management Act.
Hunter said her organization has encouraged the NCDOT to take a second look at non-bridge alternatives, particularly since so much has changed the past five years when a previous environmental document on the bridge project was prepared. She said those changes include increased costs and changing traffic forecasts.
For example, the SELC believes the Mid-Currituck Bridge will now cost as much as $600 million, not the $489 million NCDOT has projected. Hunter said the SELC’s estimate is based on its review of an NCDOT draft document and leads it to conclude the bridge shouldn’t be built.
“We don’t believe the bridge is necessary or affordable,” she said.
Hunter said she also believes NCDOT needs to prepare a supplemental environmental document on the bridge project and put its text out for public comment.
“And so far DOT has decided not to do that,” she said. “We do think that’s illegal and we’ve made that pretty clear in a letter that we’ve sent to them.”
She was referring to a 61-page document the Southern Environmental Law Center mailed to NCDOT in December.
Hunter said the SELC, supported by residents opposed to the bridge, would still like NCDOT to consider non-bridge alternatives like improving the intersection of U.S. Highway 158 and N.C. Highway 12 in Dare County.
The SELC and residents opposed to the bridge also would like to see minimal widening of N.C. 12 northward from U.S. 158 and conversion of intersections with traffic signals to roundabouts. They also would like to see more incentives offered so that vacationers could check out of their rental cottages at more staggered times. They’d also like to see an “electronic key” program to eliminate vacationers’ unnecessary trips to rental offices. The SELC believes both would help reduce the volume of traffic on N.C. 158 and 12 that is spurring demand for the bridge.
“We think if there could be some incentives to help move that along a little faster, that could be a lot more cost-effective and better for everyone,” Hunter said.
She said the SELC has had conversations with NCDOT but seen no indications the agency plans to put out a new study for public review. The agency also has not signaled it plans to address the SELC’s concerns, she said.
Tim Hass, a spokesman for NCDOT, said a project team continues to review comments and other materials provided by the SELC about the bridge project. The study team is also reevaluating and updating previous studies of the project, he said.
He said the project originated from a request from local officials, who submitted the project for consideration as part of North Carolina’s process of scoring and ranking transportation projects to determine which ones receive funding.
“The Mid-Currituck Bridge is the top transportation priority for the local communities and is being developed by the department accordingly,” he said.
We represent a strong contingent of local citizens from either side of the Currituck Sound who are fighting against the environmentally harmful and fiscally irresponsible Mid-Currituck Bridge project. The over $600 million project makes less and less sense with each passing year. To address summer-weekend traffic congestion, NCDOT is proposing a massive 7-mile toll bridge to a shifting and environmentally sensitive barrier island community. Those of us who cherish everything that makes the Northern Outer Banks so special are asking NCDOT to take a fresh look at alternative solutions.
NCDOT must rethink the available options in light of its new traffic forecast data. NCDOT’s own forecasts show that traffic is expected to be considerably lower than previously expected when the Bridge was first planned. This calls into question both the need for the bridge and its plan of finance, which is heavily dependent on toll revenue. Based on recent figures, the toll would need to be as high as $50 for a one-way trip in order to generate adequate revenue for the bridge. With NCDOT predicting fewer drivers paying hefty tolls to use the bridge, who will be left holding the tab for the costly project? As costs for the bridge continue to rise, the state is not proposing to cover any of the increased costs.
To address the need for an alternative solution, we hired an outside expert with decades of experience to take a fresh look at transportation solutions for the Northern Outer Banks. Our expert, Walter Kulash, is a professional engineer who prides himself on finding sensible, low cost solutions that are sensitive to the needs of local communities. For Currituck County and the Northern Outer Banks, Mr. Kulash has developed a solution that is not only comprehensive, but also has excellent value. In contrast to the grandiose ribbon cutting infrastructure favored by politicians, Mr. Kulash’s alternative focuses on solving the real issues underlying the Northern Outer Banks summer traffic woes. His solution includes:
· Reconfiguring the interchange of NC 12 and NC 158 by creating a “flyover” intersection– this would alleviate a major cause of backups along 158 as well as NC 12.
· Installing roundabouts at all intersections along NC 12 to keep traffic flowing.
· Adding an additional lane to NC 12 in Dare County that would serve as a two-way-left–turn lane.
· Consolidating driveways along NC 12, reducing the number of stops in traffic.
Exploring creative solutions and incentive programs to spread summer tourist traffic out throughout the week and away from heavy weekend changeover days.
· Studying needed adjustments to NC 158, including adding frontage roads to serve local businesses, consolidating interchanges, and eliminating left turns.
Mr. Kulash has priced his alternative at $146 million—less than a quarter of the cost of the $600 million bridge. This sensible solution would be a boon to taxpayers and would help ensure that needed transportation funding is available for other critical projects in North Carolina’s coastal areas. The proposed solution would benefit all travelers to the Northern Outer Banks, not just those willing to pay a $50 toll to bypass congestion.
There are real traffic congestion problems in the Northern Outer Banks – but they primarily occur on a handful of summer weekend days in peak tourist season. These problems should be solved with simple, common sense solutions—not an unaffordable seven-mile toll bridge.
Over the years, public officials have used a fabricated need for increased hurricane evacuation capacity to instill fear in the public and drive support for the bridge. While hurricanes can cause severe devastation to North Carolina’s coast, the reality is that they hardly ever land on the Northern Outer Banks during peak tourist season. Modern science and the 24 hour news cycle also mean we know several days in advance of any major storm event, leaving sufficient time to safely and orderly evacuate. The State’s 18 hour evacuation goal is arbitrary, not based on science or any justifiable standard, and is instead designed to spur major investment in transportation projects and encourage dangerous coastal development. It should not be used to justify this costly and unneeded bridge.
The moment has come for NCDOT to look at fresh ideas that would ease traffic congestion without the bridge’s tremendous cost to taxpayers and the environment. We urge Governor Cooper and our new Secretary of Transportation and to consider the alternative developed by Mr. Kulash and to cast aside the outdated Mid-Currituck Bridge idea once and for all.
William Miller, III PhD from Corolla, & Jennifer Symonds from Aydlett are both members of the steering committee for No Mid-Currituck Bridge.
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.
By Reggie Ponder
Monday, January 23, 2017
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.
The bridge would reduce traffic on U.S. 158, provide better storm evacuation and could attract more business to the area. But many have opposed its construction based on concerns over
Mid-Currituck bouncing costs 2011-2016
2011 N.C. Turnpike Authority Annual Report: $580 million.
November 2011 Report to the J.L.T.O.C.: $665 milion: Note: Cost jumps $85 million.
2012 N.C. Turnpike Authority Annual Report: $550 Million. Note: Cost drops $115 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.
October 17, 2016
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
Mid-Currituck Bridge delayed; new traffic forecasts show bridge not needed | Southern Environmental Law Center
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