February 26, 2010

Basnight urges Obama to end ‘bureaucratic
standstill’ on Bonner bridge replacement


In a letter sent this week, Marc Basnight, the powerful President pro Tempore of the state Senate and a Manteo Democrat, urged President Barack Obama to end the ‘bureaucratic” standstill” that has stalled the replacement of the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.

He called the delay in moving ahead with the bridge replacement “a shocking matter of safety and security” and pleaded with the President “to right this wrong that has wasted million of dollars and infinite red tape” over the years.

Basnight told Obama that “the only person who can resolve it is you.”

The saga of replacing the 47 year-old-bridge, which was opened in 1963 and now has a safety rating of two out of 100, has gone on for almost 20 years. Various options have been debated and various groups have studied the issues of replacing the bridge and dealing with ocean overwash on the only highway on this dynamic barrier island.

Environmentalists prefer a 17-mile bridge that would bypass Pea Island and come into Hatteras at Rodanthe.  State and local officials have said they don’t have the money to build that bridge and others have raised safety issues about it.

The state Department of Transportation settled on a short bridge parallel to the existing bridge with a series of shorter bridges at the areas of ocean overwash along Highway 12 in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

A record of decision on building the short bridge and addressing the problems with overwash on Pea Island as needed in the future was expected this month.

However, the decision was delayed for yet another in a never ending series of environmental studies.

The record of decision is now postponed until at least June and construction on a bridge will not begin until probably this time next year – at the earliest.

“Imagine for a moment a busload of school children traveling across the bridge,” Basnight wrote Obama. “When the bus reaches the apex of the bridge’s 3.3-mile span, the road collapses, sending the bus and all of the children into the water below.”

He noted that “while this image is horrific, it is indeed possible.”  And he cited the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Milwaukee several years ago that killed a dozen people.

Basnight said that such a tragedy here is avoidable “if the federal government acts now to remove all further obstacles and delays, so that construction may finally begin.”

Basnight charged that the state continues to face unnecessary delays from “a government that is more worried about the litigious threats of out-of-state environmental groups than about the public safety and economic well-being of the millions of motorists who cross the bridge every year.

In his letter, Basnight noted that funding is already set aside for the bridge and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already support the alternative that is preferred by the state.

“Yet federal highway attorneys have slowed down the process yet again,” he wrote.

“It is far past time to take action,” Basnight said.

“I would urge you to ask Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and their respective agencies to accept the design cleared by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers and allow the construction to begin as soon as possible.

(More information on the struggle to replace the Bonner Bridge and feedback from residents and visitors is available in The Island Free Press Archives.  Scroll down the front page to Archives, click on the bar, and google Bonner Bridge.)

Click here to read the text of Sen. Marc Basnight’s letter to President Obama

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