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Groups: Divert Bridge Funds

Groups: Divert bridge funds

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Sunday, December 16, 2012

CURRITUCK — Two environmental groups are suggesting that state funds for the proposed mid-Currituck bridge be redirected toward finding a solution to highway erosion problems in Dare County.

In a news release this week, the Southern Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife, said they will ask newly elected Gov. Pat McCrory and state lawmakers to reconsider replacing the Bonner Bridge at the same location. Instead, the environmental groups are proposing the state build a 17-mile bridge across the Pamlico Sound or create a high-speed ferry system, possibly using funds for the proposed mid-Currituck bridge to help pay for it.

The Southern Law Center argues that the Bonner Bridge will not solve current erosion problems on N.C. Highway 12 at Pea Island.

“The current plan to replace the Bonner Bridge contains no solution or budget to address the reoccurring access problem south of the bridge other than on an emergency basis when Highway 12 washes out and predictably cuts off access for residents and tourists again,” the release states.

The move is the groups’ latest in a series of attempts to halt construction of the Bonner Bridge because of its potential environmental impact to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Southern Law Center, on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in July 2011, claiming that the N.C. Department of Transportation had failed to consider the environmental impacts of the project.

DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty said the state has conducted “exhaustive” research on the environmental impacts, and the Bonner Bridge replacement is the best solution.

“We have worked hard with the community for many years to come up with a realistic solution to the aging Bonner Bridge, and we are in the process now where our contractors are in the design stage,” said Beaty.

As work continues, the state and environmental groups are awaiting the court’s ruling in the case, said Beaty.

DOT officials have said they expect another environmental lawsuit will be filed against the mid-Currituck bridge after getting final approval by the Federal Highway Administration.

The Southern Law Center’s recent proposal to divert state funds away from the mid-Currituck bridge in favor of a Dare County solution to highway erosion problems took state highway and local officials by surprise Wednesday.

Neither Beaty nor Currituck Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Paul O’Neal said they had heard anything about the Southern Law Center’s most recent appeal to state decision-makers.

O’Neal said the environmental groups have routinely tried to halt projects that benefit the public.

“Everything they do is to deny access to the public beaches,” said O’Neal.

He said the recent suggestion to take money away from one project to pay for another could be a “divide and conquer” tactic.

“Currituck and Dare have stood side-by-side in support of the mid-Currituck bridge and the Bonner Bridge. Our projects may be different, but their benefits are one in the same to provide economic growth to both counties,” said O’Neal.

Beaty said any attempt to divert money from one project to another isn’t possible under DOT’s funding system. The mid-Currituck bridge is a toll road and not funded by the same pool of state funds that other construction projects are using, she said.

She also argued that the Southern Law Center’s push for an alternate bridge would be too costly to be feasible.

“With a bridge of that size, we would be taking all the construction money from all counties in the area for a decade,” said Beaty.

Contact Cindy Beamon at cbeamon@dailyadvance.com

MY TAKE ON OFFICIALS SURPRISE:

“The Southern Law Center’s recent proposal to divert state funds away from the mid-Currituck bridge in favor of a Dare County solution to highway erosion problems took state highway and local officials by surprise Wednesday”

To claim to be surprised at the most common sense approach to a major on-going issue of access to Hatteras Island is laughable.  The state does NOT have the money to spend on political wish list bridges that will take limited state highway funds from many other truly deserving projects.  The NCDOT ranked the Mid-Currituck Bridge in relation to area needs and needs throughout the state extremely low in priority.  Ranking projects based on non-political criteria, the Mid-Currituck Bridge scored a 2.84 out of a possible 100.  So, lets look at the most obvious solution and put the $28 million a year for 40 years needed to fill the gap in funding for the MCB, because tolls will not pay for the constuction and maintenance of the 2 lane, $28 dollar toll each way on a summer weekend, and put those funds to much better use in solving access issues to Hatteras.  They are not asking for a shortcut for tourists for 13 weekends a year, they are asking for a secure route on and off of  Hattaras Island for residents and vacationers alike. To claim “surprise” is simply horse pucky!

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