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Bridge Decision Expected

Bridge decision expected

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, September 3, 2011

For more than a decade, Currituck residents have been hearing about a mid-county bridge, but with no final authorization to launch the project. That may change soon.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority is expected to release an environmental impact statement this month and make a final decision by fall on building the proposed seven-mile span linking the mainland with the Outer Banks.

The EIS could be ready in weeks, said Jennifer Harris, director of planning and environmental studies for the Turnpike Authority. All responses from state and federal agencies are in, except for one, said Harris. The Turnpike Authority is still awaiting comments from the Federal Highway Commission before releasing the EIS.

“It’s getting very close,” said Harris.

Once the EIS is released, state and federal agencies and the public will have another chance to comment. Next comes the state’s record of decision — the final approval needed for the project.

Although a final decision has not been made, the state has already invested heavily in the project.

Currituck Development Group, a group of 17 private contractors, was awarded a $5 million contract for preliminary designs of a span stretching across the Currituck Sound from near Aydlett to just south of Corolla.

The preliminary work included a study to determine how much money the toll road would collect. The study released in July will be used to secure financing for the $660 million project, said Harris. The report concluded more than a million cars would cross the bridge and generate $13 million from tolls the first year it opens.

CDG also hired geotechnical engineers to collect soil samples from the Currituck Sound in June to aid in the bridge’s design.

Construction of the bridge will be funded with a combination of private and public funding, state officials have planned.

This spring, the state’s share of that funding appeared to be on shaky ground.

In 2010, the General Assembly approved $15 million a year for the bridge, but a power shift in the General Assembly and proposed budget cuts appeared to endanger the project. By the end of the session, however, the funding was restored.

Private investors have proposed to finance and construct the bridge, using tolls to pay for it.

The state funds would be used to subsidize construction so that tolls will not go above what motorists are willing to pay.

The state still needs to award a construction contract, but CDG appears to be the likely choice.

The state began financing negotiations last year with the limited liability company’s main contractor ACS Infrastructure Development, a major bridge-building company.

If the project goes according to the schedule, the bridge could be open to traffic by 2016.

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