state’s new transportation secretary backs the Bonner Bridge project,
but he is not so sure about the Mid-Currituck Bridge. He also doesn’t
favor a ferry solution for Oregon Inlet, but he’s willing to consider
it in Currituck.
might take it as a good sign that Anthony J. “Tony” Tata, appointed
last month to head the state Department of Transportation, calls the
spot at the north end of Rodanthe “S-turns,” the name surfers use for
the popular surf spot, instead of “S-curves,” the official name
transportation officials call their current most troublesome hotspot on
a telephone interview this week, Tata, 53, who grew up in Virginia
Beach, said he has visited the Outer Banks many times over the years
with friends who have relatives here and to surf.
own Bert Austin, former sheriff of Dare County who now lives in Grandy,
is one of his close friends, Tata said, and Austin’s nephew is his best
had a special relationship with the Outer Banks since my childhood, so
I understand that the roads and ferries and shipping are the lifeline
for the good folks on the Outer Banks,” he said. “There’s a lot
of key issues out there that we have to take on.”
a retired Army brigadier general who served from 2006-2007 as Deputy
Commanding General of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was fired in
September after 20 months as Superintendent of Schools in Wake County.
Supporters say that Tata, hired by Republicans, was a victim of
politics on the newly Democratic-controlled board.
elected Gov. Pat McCrory’s office said in a statement that Tata’s 28
years of experience in the military, where he addressed complex
transportation challenges involving ports, highways, airfields and
rail, makes him well-suited to the job as transportation secretary.
observers of the NCDOT, an agency continually under pressure from the
public and legislators, might say that Tata’s ability to work in a war
zone gives him the temperament to lead DOT.
being the subject of intense media scrutiny for the last two years,
Tata spoke in a relaxed and amiable manner. But he didn’t pretend he
knew all the answers.
“As a new secretary, you might imagine, we’re trying to take a new look at several different projects,” he said.
asked about talk in the legislature of tolling the Hatteras-Ocracoke
ferry --- the busiest ferry route in the state ---he initially
responded that “our feeling is that we should toll it all, or none.”
“I don’t see any reason for the citizens of the Outer Banks to pay for everything and not the tourist,” he said.
toll increases at the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes to Ocracoke
are already law, he said, that will go into effect June 30.
Tata softened his stance in response to local objections that contend
it would be unfair to toll the ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke,
since, as the only access to the island, it is akin to a road.
think that’s a valid argument,” he said, “and if there is no other
alternative access, it’s technically not a road, but it is a point of
dismissed the idea of using high speed ferries to transport people and
vehicles from Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe, rather than replacing the
Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, and maintaining access on Highway 12, as some
environmental groups have suggested.
“Ferries,” he said, “are not without disruption to the environment, also.”
he said later in the interview that ferries of some kind are being
considered as an option in the department’s re-evaluation of the
proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge project.
said that DOT intends to move forward with the Bonner Bridge
construction project that has recently started, as well as continuing
with plans to rebuild and maintain Highway 12.
The DOT plan to replace the bridge is currently being challenged in federal court by environmental groups.
Any notion of building a 17.5-mile long bridge that would bypass hotspots in Pea Island, he said, is not realistic.
“We just can’t afford a billion dollar bridge,” he said.
feel it’s feasible to build two bridges for $200-$250 million,” he
said, referring to spans over Oregon Inlet and over the new inlet on
of the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge from the mainland to Corolla is
still being evaluated by DOT, Tata said, including the possibility of
legislative transportation committee has questioned whether the state
can afford to build the bridge. DOT engineers have also said that the
project is a low priority compared with other state transportation
having conversations about that right now,” he said. Part of the
discussion includes a back-up plan to address traffic congestion if the
bridge project is jettisoned.
said that he intends to “leverage projects to create jobs” and to find
ways to increase efficiency of maintenance of the state’s roads and
bridges. Projects scheduled in the TIP, the state’s transportation
plan, are also being evaluated.
“I’m looking at all of it,” he said, but declined to elaborate. “We’ve got a budget submission in a couple of weeks.”
far as the construction of the U.S. 64 widening project from Columbia
to East Lake, Tata said he understood that the four-lane road was
critical to alleviate the traffic bottleneck during hurricane
when told that residents say they’ve never experienced a traffic
back-up during evacuations -- mainly because it’s not the route
tourists favor -- and that the road would destroy their homes, Tata
said that there has to be a balance between safety and heritage.
“That’s something that we’d take a look at,” he said. “The highway widening is scheduled right now for 2018, so we have time.”
said he’d like to sit down with East Lake folks and talk to them,
adding that he plans to visit every transportation division in the
state to hold town hall-style meetings.
The date when he’ll be coming to Dare County has yet to be determined.
“There’s 14 divisions and one of me,” he said. “I might wait till the weather improves and the surf is up.”