By Cindy Beamon
Staff Writer Daily Advance
Monday, June 14, 2010

A state House plan to cut $15 million earmarked for the mid-county bridge project in Currituck this year would have no effect on the project, despite concerns to the contrary, says David Joyner, executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority.

Last week, the N.C. House of Representatives approved a spending plan that would transfer the $15 million into a “mobility fund” for other road projects. Joyner said the funds are not needed yet for the bridge project. Plans for financing the project are behind schedule and need to be finalized before the Turnpike Authority actually needs the funds, he said. “Everything just moved back one fiscal year,” Joyner said.

State Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, said he voted to approve the House budget believing that the transfer of the $15 million to a mobility fund would not affect the bridge project, but he’s ready to oppose the provision if he misunderstood its intent.

Last week, Sen. Marc Basnight D-Dare, said he will oppose the provision in the House budget because it would raise tolls for the bridge and could affect financing for the project.

Both Owens and Basnight have been long-time supporters of the mid-county bridge and said they want the project to move forward without delay. Owens said he plans to “get to the bottom” of what effect the budget provision may have before signing off on any budget plan negotiated by the House and Senate in the coming weeks.

“I have been told it would not have any effect on the mid-county bridge,” Owens said.

If he finds out differently during budget negotiations with the Senate, Owens said he will fight against the transfer of funds.

The bridge project is estimated to cost $800 million, according to recent estimates, Joyner said, adding that the cost could go higher as details are finalized. The state plans to pay for the project through its first public-private partnership, using a combination of bonds, tolls, federal loans and private financing. The $15 million was the first installment of “gap funds” set aside by the state to offset construction debt not covered by toll revenue.

The Turnpike Authority had anticipated it would need the gap funds next year, but plans for financing the project are behind schedule, Joyner said. The first installment is not needed until the following year. Thereafter, the state will need to pay $15 million annually for up to 50 years, or until debt for the construction is paid, he said.

Once the debt is paid, the tolls will be dropped and ownership of the two-lane, seven-mile-long span will revert to the state. Until then, the state plans to contract with ACS Dragodos, a Spanish bridge building company, to construct and help finance the project. Joyner said the Turnpike Authority is about six months away from beginning financing negotiations with the company.

Before the negotiations begin, the Turnpike Authority must finalize cost estimates, including revenue it expects to get from tolls. To be cost effective, tolls must be kept at a reasonable price: Initial estimates are $6 to $12 one way.

Since tolls are not likely to cover the full cost of construction, the state has decided to subsidize the project with gap funds. Joyner said the gap funds are not likely to offset the entire construction cost. ACS may also need to provide financing. How much would be decided during negotiations next year, he said.

Funding & EIS
Submitted by NoMCB on Tue, 06/15/2010 – 14:19.
What happened to the final EIS and all the comments gathered in writing and at public hearings? No decision on that until late August & they keep talking like it’s a done deal! It’s well worth reading the comments on EIS submitted by the Southern Environment Law Center, Audubon NC, NC Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, & the Wilderness Society which you can find here: NC Taxpayers, can we afford this when teachers are being cut, and we can’t afford to maintain the roads & bridges we currently have, or replace the lifeline to Hatteras Island, the Bonner Bridge? Note that they are talking about $15MM/year for 50 years for a bridge that’s a convenience not a necessity for tourists or residents, will not solve evacuation issues, but it will destroy the fragile Currituck sound and the environment at both ends of the bridge, wipe out what remains of one of the last barrier islands and be a real bonanza for the politicians and developers!