December 7, 2011


NCDOT presents options for long-term Highway 12 repair to the public

BY CATHERINE KOZAK




With seven weeks of isolation barely behind them, northern Hatteras Island residents were anxious to learn more about options to permanently fix two areas of Highway 12 that were torn apart during Hurricane Irene. 

Local preferences on how to address storm breached spots in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Mirlo Beach in northern Rodanthe will be taken into consideration, but ultimately the chosen long-term solution will be mostly dictated by constraints in coastal conditions and regulations.

That means the only possible alternative that may pass muster in the refuge is a bridge at the same spot where a temporary one spans the inlet torn through by Irene. 

“On Pea Island, any option that stays in the right of way is preferred, and in some cases, required,” Jim Trogdon, North Carolina Department of Transportation Chief Operating Officer, said in telephone interview.

But at Mirlo, where damage from sound and ocean tide is still evident, he said, there are “more options to consider. It’s a more complex site with a lot of varying perspectives. To me, there’s no alternative that stands out yet.” 

The road was reopened on Oct. 10 after NCDOT built the temporary bridge in Pea Island, filled the breach, and repaved the road near S-Curves.

More than 100 people stopped by a NCDOT information workshop at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building on Tuesday, Dec. 6, to study maps of each proposal and query transportation officials. Residents have been asked to weigh in on four different long-term alternatives for each spot that involve bridging, road relocation, beach nourishment, or a combination of nourishment and bridging.

The proposals are part of Phase II of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge replacement project that was approved last December, but the storm damage moved up the need to go forward on the second phase, even as Phase I is still being designed. Construction of the Oregon Inlet bridge is expected to start by early 2013. 

Paula Babin, who lives on the soundside of Mirlo Beach, said that beach nourishment seems to be the most cost effective and feasible of the solutions, but she is concerned that “it might not be the most long-lasting.”

Babin said that nourishment, although popular with a number of her island neighbors, is certainly not the consensus fix.

 “We’ve got as many opinions as we do bodies,” she said.  “I think the residents of Rodanthe are worried about their businesses losing visbility if the bridge bypasses their businesses.”

Not only would one of the bridge proposals affect commerce, it would also effectively isolate the community, said Don Babin, Paula’s husband.

“It kind of gives me the impression that we’re going to be left to fend for ourselves,” he said. “Once they give up (Highway) 12 in that area, we’re pretty much dead in the water.”

The alternatives for Rodanthe and Mirlo, ranging in cost from $114 million to $240 million, are:

  • Build a bridge within the easement and nourish the beach.
  • Build the bridge within the easement but don’t nourish.
  • Build a 2.5-mile bridge that extends in Pamlico Sound about 1,000 feet west of the shoreline and bypasses Mirlo Beach, anchoring just north of Island Convenience.

Construct and maintain high dunes north of Mirlo and use beach nourishment, without building a bridge.

The four options, ranging in cost from $97 million to $147 million, are similar for Pea Island, except they include locating either the road or a bridge west of the current bridge/road. The biggest difference between the sites is that Pea Island is regulated by federal compatibility requirements that would likely preclude any work outside the state right-of-way.

Trogdon said that if a concrete bridge is built within the existing right of way as he expects, it would be about 1- to 1 -miles long and about 18- to 25-feet above the ground level.

Not only are costs for beach nourishment not yet available, it is unclear, Trogdon said, whether it would be permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the beach in Pea Island, or by the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction of the shoreline off Rodanthe.

But Trogdon said an even bigger consideration with nourishment is where it would be functional -- in other words, where it would work.

With Mirlo Beach still partially in ruins, the potential need for acquisition of right-of-way is a factor in the timing of the chosen alternative, as well as whatever minor shifts in the project design could be helpful, Trogdon said.  For instance, an owner may choose not to restore their damaged home if it turns out to be in the path of the project. 

Trogdon said that DOT will hold as many meetings as needed to work with the community. He said the agency is hoping to have chosen the alternatives by the end of January.

Whatever the option, islanders just want to keep their lifeline to the world open, said James Charlet, a Salvo resident and the site manager of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.

Until the highway was repaired, the only access off the island was lengthy trips on emergency ferries. Charlet said he and other islanders chose to wait.

“The feeling of not being able to leave the island for seven weeks was really a strange feeling,” he said. “Almost like we were in prison.”

As long as a bridge does not cut off access to Chicamacomico, Charlet said he thinks that bridges make the most sense. Not everyone agrees with him, but at least people seem to trust that DOT is working with them. 

“I think all we are saying is, whatever the right answer is, it’s not that complicated,” he said. “We need it done, and we need it done quickly.”

NCDOT is accepting public comments on the long-term solution to the problems on Highway 12 until Jan. 20.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information, visit www.ncdot.org/travel/nc12recovery, or go to the NC12 blog at http://nc12repairs.blogspot.com/. You can also reach the Project Hotline at 1-866-803-0529.

 To comment on the Highway 12 alternatives, e-mail Beth Smyre at [email protected] or call the Project Hotline (number above.) Comments can also be mailed to Beth Smyre, PE at NCDOT-Project Development and Environmental Analysis Unit, 1548 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1548. The comment period closes on Jan. 20, 2012.




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