December 20, 2010

Record of Decision is signed on Bonner Bridge replacement project


The Federal Highway Administration signed a Record of Decision (ROD) late this afternoon that clears the way for the North Carolina Department of Transportation to move ahead with the construction of a replacement for the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet.

And NCDOT is not letting any grass grow under its feet in the effort to get the project, which has been in the planning stages for two decades, underway.

In a media release this evening, DOT said it has already put the following time-saving measures into effect:

  • Decided to construct the new Bonner Bridge using the design-build method. By hiring one team to simultaneously design and build the project, NCDOT said it will complete the project years sooner and save taxpayer dollars.
  • Has three prescreened design-build teams ready to compete for this estimated $300 million contract. NCDOT plans to open the bids in June, 2011.
  • Scheduled the first permit negotiation meeting for Jan. 4, 2011.

The stalled bridge project seemed to have reached an impasse during the summer when all agencies except the U.S. Department of the Interior had signed off on the latest environmental study, which was released by DOT in May.

In its response to the study, DOI called the study “deficient” and “inadequate.” At public hearings and during a public comment period, the response was overwhelming that folks favored the plan and wanted the project to move ahead.  It was, to them, first of all, a public safety issue, and an economic issue for Hatteras Island and all of Dare County.

In August, at the request of local officials, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., talked with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who sent Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks to Dare County to assess the situation.

Strickland met with state and local officials and toured Pea Island refuge.

In November, Hagan came to Dare County for what was billed as an “information session” on bridge issues and what eventually became an effort to get state and federal agencies on the same page on the plan for the replacement.

Hagan toured under and over the bridge and along Highway 12 in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge with Dare County Commissioners Warren Judge and Allen Burrus, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Stickland’s deputy Jane Lyder, and Victor Barbour of NCDOT.

Following Hagan’s visit, Lyder pursued meetings that involved DOI, NCDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Hagan said Salazar told her on Saturday that DOI had withdrawn its objections to the plan and was ready to move forward.

“I think this is a great victory for the Hatteras Island community,” said Hagan, who said she was committed to seeing the bridge replacement project through the rest of the process “today, tomorrow, next week” or whenever.

Hagan praised efforts to work out a solution by Salazar and FHWA administrator Victor Mendez and the community, county, and state officials, including state Sen. Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, who was President Pro Tempore of the state Senate and who wrote two letters to President Barack Obama about the public safety issue and the need to move forward with a new bridge.

“This announcement today is a critical step,” she said, adding that Mendez  told her that a key to getting the project moving again was having the agencies “sitting down face to face” in meeting that started in November and continued into this month.

Jim Trogdon, NCDOT’s chief operating officer, called it a “testament to what can be done when government works together at all levels -- local, state, and federal.”

In a letter to Mendez on Friday, Dec. 17, Lyder wrote that “the Department no longer objects to FHWA concluding its environmental study process with the selection of the Parallel Bridge with NC 12 Transportation Management Plan alternative as the bridge replacement alternative that will advance into the design stage.”

FHWA, she said in the letter, has agreed to:

A statement in its Record of Decision that federal-aid highway funding for the project is conditional upon compliance with “terms and conditions” of the permit that USFWS issues.

A program of periodic, site-specific forecasting studies by undertaken by mutually agreed upon coastal science experts.

A statement in the Record of Decision that all restoration work for Phase I be completed and accepted by DOI before the final transfer of title for the new easement area.

Details of the permit condition and mitigation will be worked out in the negotiation meetings that will begin Jan. 4.

In its media release, NCDOT said, “Information generated by a coastal monitoring program will determine what types of improvements are needed on the remaining stretch of N.C. 12 through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and when that work would occur.”

DOT added that the public will be invited to comment on the plans for future phases of the project once they are developed.

And, DOT public information officer Greer Beaty, said that there will be public comment period after each agency issues its permits for the new bridge.

“This decision to move forward with the Bonner Bridge is a great Christmas gift for the people of coastal North Carolina,” North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said in a statement. “I’ve told NCDOT to attack this project with the greatest sense of urgency, making sure it was ready to get working as soon as the law would allow.”

Perhaps the most thrilled folks on Hatteras Island were the Bridge Moms, who wrote letters to Perdue and to First Lady Michelle Obama, and their leader Beth Midgett of Hatteras, who has been chairman of Dare County’s Replace the Bridge Now Citizens’ Action Committee.

They started posting on Facebook as soon as word started spreading this afternoon, and Midgett said this evening that it “still didn’t seem real.”

Earlier this afternoon, she posted on Facebook:

“Bridge Moms’ Christmas comes early! This news is the best gift for our children that Sen. Hagan could give us! She has committed to see this Bonner Bridge replacement through. Thank you to Sen. Hagan, Commissioner Warren Judge, Commissioner Allen Burrus for your hard work and dedication to the people of Hatteras Island!”


To read the letter from Jane Lyder of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Federal Highway Administration, click here.

To read the FHWA response, click here.

To read earlier blogs by Editor Irene Nolan on the year’s earlier impasse, go to:

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