On Oct. 17, the Southern Environmental Law Center issued a statement on behalf of opponents to the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge, claiming that NCDOT is delaying building the seven-mile Currituck Sound crossing due to rising costs and lower traffic forecasts. The SELC, which orchestrated a years-long delay to replacing the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, across nearby Oregon Inlet, until a compromise was reached last year, claims the original Mid-Currituck Bridge cost estimate of $440 million now tops $678 million.
The organization also asserts that it has “new data” that suggest NCDOT’s original forecasts have dwindled by nearly half, necessitating a one-way toll as high as $50. The next-closest crossing of Currituck Sound to the Outer Banks’ popular resorts and beaches is more than 19 miles farther south on U.S. 158.
NCDOT spokeswoman Nicole Meister characterizes the SELC’s allegations as “misleading.” The Mid-Currituck crossing’s scheduled record of decision has been pushed back to spring 2017, but Meister says the delay is due to a required reevaluation of the project’s 2012 final environmental impact statement to determine whether new conditions or regulations need to be considered. She says Parsons Brinckerhoff’s preliminary report of that reevaluation appears to be the source of the SELC’s claims.
“Findings are still being evaluated, and no decisions have been made,” Meister says. “We’re not rethinking the project at all.”
NCDOT also is updating the proposed crossing’s 2011 traffic and revenue study, which called for a range of tolls topping out at $26, contingent on traffic demand and other factors. Those findings are expected by the end of 2016.
Meister notes that the alleged $50 toll cited in the SELC statement does not appear in preliminary environmental reevaluation. “We don’t know where that comes from,” she says.
In 2015, North Carolina’s Transportation Board accelerated the schedule for the crossing by two years. Plans call for NCDOT to contribute $173 million, with the rest funded by toll revenue.