February 2, 2012

UPDATE: DOT pushes back a decision on the permanent fixes to Highway 12


While road engineers are still considering whether a proposed 7-mile bridge bypassing a breached area in Pea Island National Wildlife is feasible, the anticipated decision on permanent fixes to hurricane-damaged Highway 12 has been pushed back weeks into February or later.

But the state Department of Transportation said the project remains on track.

“We’re moving forward as efficiently as possible,” Dara Demi, a NCDOT spokeswoman, said Wednesday.  

Before the option of a 7-mile bridge was put on the table in late December, selection of permanent solutions to two breached areas in and just outside the refuge was expected by the end of January.

Extraordinary sound tide from Hurricane Irene in August destroyed the roadbed at Mirlo Beach, on the north end of Rodanthe, and cut an inlet through a section of road in Pea Island near the ranger building.  The Mirlo breach has since been repaved, and a temporary steel truss bridge has been built over the inlet.

Greer Beaty, also a NCDOT spokeswoman, said that the department is evaluating public comments provided recently at three public meetings, as well as input from project partners, and that a recommendation will be ready “as soon as possible.”

“We’re moving very quickly,” she said. “We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep pressing.”

Cost and permitting constraints led to DOT in December dropping beach nourishment from the proposed alternatives at both sites. Remaining options include bridging within the right-of-way and bridging to the west.

At the suggestion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manager of the refuge, DOT  agreed at the December meeting of state and federal agency representatives, called a merger team, to look into the feasibility of a longer, 7-mile bridge that would start north of the Pea Island breach, curve out into Pamlico Sound, and tie-in at Rodanthe.
“We’re doing an initial investigation of that idea, gathering data to take back to our merger team,” Beaty said. “We’ll be able to move very, very quickly once we have this data and the merger team meets together.”

A merger team meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9, but Beaty said that whether a recommendation, which will be submitted to the governor, comes out that meeting , or a subsequent one, is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, DOT’s monitoring of the temporary bridge revealed that the integrity of the span was already being threatened by movement of the inlet to the south.

“The water and sand has kind of traded places,” said Demi.

Road workers about two weeks ago began reinforcing the inlet’s south shore with rock and metal sheet piling to stem erosion that could undermine the bridge. A total of 200 truck loads of stone and 100 feet of sheeting are expected to be used to secure the shoreline.  

While the work continues for the next two to four weeks, lane closures can be expected daily between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.  

Demi said the $600,000 project is considered an add-on to the contract with the company that installed the temporary bridge.

Dennis Stewart, a refuge biologist in Pea Island since 1994, said in an earlier interview that DOT has done impressive work with impressive speed, but he knows all too well what they’re up against.

“That inlet channel has migrated a lot faster than they expected,” Stewart said.  “They’re really hustling to get that bridge protected before the next storm comes in.” 


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