SELC, Defenders take another
DOT plan to replace Bonner Bridge
Southern Environmental Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife today
issued a news release again attacking the North Carolina Department of
Transportation for its current plan to replace the Bonner Bridge and
address Highway 12 “hotspots” in a phased approach.
Wildlife and the National Parks Conservation Association, represented
by SELC, have already sued in federal court to stop the DOT plan and
have also challenged a major CAMA permit issued by the state in state
Neither of those cases has been decided.
Here is the complete, unedited news release:
groups today call on Governor-elect Pat McCrory and state legislators
to provide a less-exposed, more reliable and permanent solution for
Outer Banks residents and tourists that is not dependent on the
repeatedly washed-out and closed-down Pea Island section of Highway 12.
The groups say that the Governor-elect and legislature need to step in
because NCDOT is mired in defending previous short-sighted, short-term
plans instead of pursuing a long-term solution.
only thing reliable about the Pea Island section of Highway 12 is that
it will wash out and cut off access again in another storm or high
tide,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law
Center. “Trying to maintain the status quo using Band-Aids that wash
away with each storm makes no sense for residents or taxpayers when
NCDOT could invest funds on permanent solutions to provide reliable,
less vulnerable access through a longer bridge or high-speed
NCDOT cites cost as an obstacle to such solutions, earlier this year it
revised its cost estimates for a longer bridge through the Pamlico
Sound, concluding that its construction costs would range from only
$569 million to $629 million. The groups point out that between funding
already set aside for NCDOT’s current patchwork approach and for
unnecessary transportation projects elsewhere in the region, nearly $1
billion in funding exists for investment in a longer bridge or
high-speed ferry system.
already plans to spend $476 million on its current plans. NCDOT already
has $244 million programmed in the State Transportation Improvement
Program (STIP) to rebuild Bonner Bridge at its current location, and it
recently allotted an additional $232 million in the STIP for so-called
“Phase II” bridging over two sections of Highway 12 damaged in recent
hurricanes. The groups have sent NCDOT a request to account for what it
already spent on previous temporary bridges, sand removal, and pavement
repairs after Hurricane Irene last year and other storms in the last
could abandon or defer the Mid-Currituck Bridge project (currently
slated for $28 million per year for 40 years) and divert several years
of that funding to a longer bridge or ferries for Hatteras.
Likewise, NCDOT could defer or abandon the unpopular expansion of U.S.
64 through Dare County and a wildlife refuge, for which $370 million
has been designated in the STIP, and spend only what is necessary to
refurbish or replace the existing Alligator River bridge, leaving the
rest for the Bonner Bridge replacement project. Widening U.S.
is not justified by traffic projections, is opposed by the East Lake
community, and is destructive to wetlands.
on these sources, NCDOT would have ample funds to invest in a long
bridge or ferries for Hatteras access. If state
choose to reallocate less, tolls collected from Hatteras Island
visitors could make up any difference, with special dispensation for
defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different results. Replacing this bridge just isn’t the
answer when even modest storms and tides now routinely swamp Highway
12,” says Jason Rylander of Defenders of Wildlife. “This is
North Carolina coast. Big storms happen. Let’s build a bridge in the
right place or create a ferry system and stop the madness.”
current plans to replace Bonner Bridge contain no solution or budget to
address the re-occurring access problem south of the bridge other than
on an emergency basis when Highway 12 washes out and predictably cuts
off access for residents and tourists again. Today’s current damage due
to Hurricane Sandy is reminiscent of previous washouts in the same
section of highway, including storm damage in years 2006, 2009, and
2011 and foreshadows future washouts at other high-erosion “hot spots”
between Rodanthe and Bonner Bridge.
models show this exposed section of Highway 12 and two other areas of
the road on the refuge are extremely vulnerable to erosion, overwash,
and the creation of new inlets. The beaches south of the existing
bridge are among the fastest eroding beaches in North Carolina with
average rates in some areas over 12 feet a year. According to NCDOT’s
own studies, its proposed “Phase II” bridges could be in the ocean
within a few years as the island erodes.
2003, all state and federal agencies involved in the bridge replacement
project agreed that building a long bridge to bypass the eroding
beaches of the wildlife refuge was the preferred option for Hatteras
Island. Letters from state Sen. Marc Basnight and Dare County
politicians, however, forced the agencies to reconsider and pursue
rebuilding the status quo. If the project had gone forward at
that time, the bridge over Pamlico Sound would be completed and open to