January 27, 2010

Record of decision on Bonner Bridge replacement is delayed again

Progress has again been delayed on the construction of a safe transportation corridor to connect the northern and southern regions of Dare County.

 Upon hearing of this latest delay during discussions with North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dare County officials expressed extreme disappointment since a Record of Decision (ROD) was expected any day with a promise that construction would begin this year.

 The most recent delay comes following a decision by NCDOT to alter the Preferred Alternative, known as the “short parallel bridge with phased development on Pea Island,” to include the initial construction of the replacement bridge at Oregon Inlet as planned but with future phases being built as needed based on the conditions at the time. 

Because of this unexpected change, there is now a need for an Environmental Assessment that will delay the Record of Decision (ROD) until June.  Construction of the new bridge will not begin until the spring of 2011 at the earliest.

 “Federal and state agencies have done environmental studies over and over again since 1993 when the replacement bridge was first due to be constructed,”  commented Allen Burrus, a businessman from Hatteras Island who serves as vice chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.  “The Department of Transportation’s recommendation to replace the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet and create a series of elevated roadway segments over hotspots along Pea Island in phases is the least environmentally damaging and the most economical plan.  Let’s get moving on this before people get hurt.”

In August 2007, an interagency group reached concurrence that the “phased approach”� was the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative. Joining NCDOT in this decision were the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to Beth Midgett, who chairs a citizen’s committee to replace the bridge, “The nor’easter last fall underscores the urgency for NCDOT to begin work on the construction of a safer and more secure transportation corridor between northern Dare County and Hatteras Island. The storm destroyed approximately 800 feet of Route 12 road surface at the S-curves just north of Rodanthe stopping traffic for five days while NCDOT crews worked day and night to reopen the route.”

Dare County said in a media release, “Special interest groups have stalled and delayed the replacement of the Bonner Bridge.  The groups advocate a 17-mile bridge, which would make it one of the longest structures in the world.  The costs for a bridge of this length are so great that there is no reasonable expectation that the project could be funded now or for the foreseeable future.  The long bridge would also prevent visitors and traffic access to Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, a favorite vacation spot for fishermen, bird watchers, families, surfers and, ironically, environmentalists.”

These environmental groups have recommended that a toll be charged on the 17-mile bridge to offset construction costs, as is planned for the mid-county bridge in Currituck County.

 “To charge our residents as much as $50 per day to travel to and from their jobs or our visitors to visit the lighthouse in Buxton is offensive,” commented Dare County Commission Chairman Warren Judge. “The mid-county bridge in Currituck is a matter of providing an optional route for the convenience of visitors to Corolla; whereas, we are concerned with maintaining the only safe transportation corridor for our residents’ safety, health and welfare.”

More information on the delay in the Bonner Bridge replacement can be found on the Outer Banks Voice Web site, http://outerbanksvoice.com/2010/01/27/bonner-bridge-another-study-another-delay/ )

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