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The Virginian Pilot Op-Ed

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.  

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