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Mid-Currituck Bridge Misses Cut

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, May 31, 2014

CURRITUCK — The Mid-Currituck Bridge has reached a dead end.

The proposed project will not get funded at the state level, based on the state Department of Transportation’s newly released draft list of winning state-level projects.

Funding at the district and regional levels also seems highly unlikely, if not impossible.

The project didn’t even come close to making the list of 100 state-level projects that DOT has projected will be either fully or partially funded over the next 10 years.

A new round of Strategic Mobility Formula scores released in May indicates the Mid-Currituck Bridge had dropped in ranking to 1,108 out of 1,740 proposed highway projects.

The Mid-Currituck Bridge was not alone in missing the cut. No other proposed state-level project in Division 1, comprised of 14 counties in the northeast, was on the list of funded projects.

Forty percent of the state’s transportation dollars goes 
toward state-level projects. The remaining 60 percent goes to regional and district-level projects under DOT’s new method for funding transportation projects.

The projects are scored on five criteria: congestion, travel time benefits vs. the cost, economic impact, safety, and the level of military and freight traffic.

Local officials say the formula is weighted in favor of urban areas, and a quick glance at the list of funded projects appears to support that assertion. Wake County qualified for 25 projects. Charlotte-Mecklenburg had 13.

The bridge’s chances for funding at the regional or district levels also appears unlikely, said District 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings.

“Based on the cost of the project and the limited funds available, it would not be feasible to be funded at the regional or division level,” Jennings said about the bridge.

The bridge has several factors working against it.

First, it didn’t even score higher than other highway projects proposed for the region.

Eighteen projects in the 20-county region scored higher than the bridge project, most in higher population areas closer to Interstate 95.

The bridge’s high price tag also works against its chances.

Jennings said the region will have about $44 million total to distribute for road projects each year.

With $173 million needed for the bridge’s construction, the project would consume not quite four years worth of funding for a sprawling region that stretches from Interstate 95 to the coast, from the Virginia state line to Dare and Hyde counties.

Funding at the 14-county District level would be even less likely. Jennings said he’s expecting about $32 million a year to fund highway projects, ferries, airports and bike and pedestrian improvements. With so many projects in the mix, the money will not go far, predicted Jennings.

“There’s a tremendous amount of needs competing for a very limited amount of funding,” said Jennings.

Which projects will be approved at district and regional level has not been fully decided yet.

Unlike at the state level, local officials will have some input into what projects are selected at the regional and district levels.

The state score counts 70 percent toward a regional project’s chances for funding; local input counts 30 percent. Rural planning organizations, comprised of commissioners from each of the 20 counties, will have 15 percent sway over what projects are selected. Jennings will have another 15 percent.

Even with 30 percent of its score undecided at the regional level, The Mid-Currituck Bridge still has the odds against it. Eighteen projects will start out with higher scores and a better chance of getting funded at the regional level.

To override that deficit, even if it is possible, would require sacrificial support by other counties. To pay for the bridge, other counties would have to be willing to give up funding for projects their citizens need.

Currituck can try again to seek state-level funding for the bridge two years from now when the state re-prioritizes projects.

Results may be no better, however.

The bridge’s score is not likely to improve much — unless DOT changes its formula for selecting projects, Jennings noted.

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