Money for Currituck bridge shelved for another year
By Jeff Hampton
© June 23, 2012
The funding for North Carolina’s Currituck mid-county bridge has been once again bumped back a year by the General Assembly, raising concerns the project could be in trouble.
The North Carolina $20.2 billion budget moves $15 million for the bridge into another transportation account for the fourth straight year.
“This delay is not OK, as far as I am concerned,” said Owen Etheridge, a Currituck County commissioner. “I’m worried… they take it out of the budget now and it might not get back in next time.”
The $600 million toll bridge would span the Currituck Sound seven miles, from Aydlett to Corolla, connecting the mainland to the Currituck Outer Banks for the first time. The commute to Corolla from Norfolk would be cut by more than an hour and traffic through the Dare community of Southern Shores greatly reduced.
Opponents see the bridge as unnecessary, a blight to the beauty of the Aydlett community and the Currituck Sound and an avenue that would bring even more congestion to Corolla.
Since first slated for construction more than 20 years ago, environmental concerns, community opposition and costs continued to delay the project through the 1990s. As late as 2004, construction cost was estimated at $100 million.
In 2008, the General Assembly agreed to set aside $15 million annually in funding to augment the private investment. Later, annual gap funding was supposed to grow to $28 million. The project appeared on track, but since 2009, funding has been delayed year after year.
“This is going to require constant vigilance,” said Peter Rascoe, town manager for Southern Shores.
The project has been through numerous studies, and the state is close to stating its intent to start construction – known as the “record of decision.” Once that comes out, the state expects a legal challenge from environmental agencies and other opponents, said Greer Beaty, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
The Currituck mid-county bridge faces local opposition, is too costly, lacks a clear purpose and raises “significant environmental permitting issues,” David Farren, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, wrote in a letter to state Transportation Secretary Eugene Conti.
Ventures of this size typically face lawsuits, Beaty said. But legal action delays construction and the need for state money for this year, she said. A fund of $2 million remains with the bridge for ongoing costs, she said.
“We will have the money when we need it,” Beaty said.
Tolls are expected to augment state and private investment. Those tolls, based on a 2011 study, could be as much as $28 for cars – largely tourists – on a Saturday afternoon and as low as $3 for residents during the week. Despite the high cost on the weekend, the study found that 99 percent of motorists would pay it if it meant saving more than an hour driving through heavy summer traffic on N.C. 12.
Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159, email@example.com