March 29, 2013
Bonner Bridge replacement project
awaits federal judge’s decision
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
erosion and ocean overwash are hardly the only headaches the state
Department of Transportation has with the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
The public comment period on the proposed
bridge over Pea Island Inlet closed on Thursday, and transportation
officials will review input on the Phase II project from agencies and
the public to determine if the project warrants further environmental
study. If not, construction could begin this summer.
pending legal challenges have the potential to hinder or even stop
progress on the new bridge over Oregon Inlet as well as the permanent
fixes to Highway 12 hot spots.
“The construction on the bridge
will not be able to begin until the legal matter is resolved,” NCDOT
division engineer Jerry Jennings said on Thursday about the Bonner
replacement. “We will continue to make repairs to the existing bridge
as needed until we can start construction.”
Jennings said that
work on a test pile is currently being done on the northern end of the
50-year-old bridge, and scour at the base of three piles is also being
A ruling on a lawsuit filed in July 2011 in New
Bern in the U.S. District Court for North Carolina’s Eastern District
by environmental groups opposed to the project is expected any time,
said Victor Barbour, DOT technical services administrator.
of the information is in the judge’s hands,” he said. “She’s had it
several months. We’re at the mercy of the judge right now.”
Louise Flanagan will be making a summary judgment based on her review
of reams of documents submitted to her by both sides.
ruling against the DOT will likely also impact the construction of the
2.1-mile bridge in Pea Island, said DOT project manager Beth Smyre,
saying that the Bonner project being challenged in court includes the
Phase II portion that addresses permanent fixes for breaches in Pea
Island and Rodanthe during Hurricane Irene in 2011.
Island alternative was chosen to replace a temporary bridge over the
inlet on the south end of the refuge. The preferred alternative for the
Rodanthe location will be announced by summer.
Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association,
represented by Chapel Hill-based Southern Environmental Law Center,
contend that NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration violated the
National Environmental Policy Act – better known as NEPA -- by not
adequately addressing all alternatives to replacement of the Bonner
Bridge and maintenance of Highway 12.
The groups favor
construction of a 17.5-mile bridge that bypasses Pea Island National
Wildlife Refuge or use of high-speed ferries.
DOT responded, are not viable, largely because of high upfront costs.
The agency’s most recent study of ferries also concluded that the
required dredging would be extensive and environmentally damaging and
that no high-speed ferry currently exists that could safely transport
vehicles in heavily-shoaled Outer Banks inlets.
letter-writing campaign against the project launched this week by
Defenders of Wildlife again proposed ferries as a transportation
solution for Hatteras Island but did not mention the study.
the judge rules in favor of DOT or the environmental groups, the losing
side is expected to appeal, Barbour said. The judge could then
allow the project to continue pending the outcome of the appeal,
suspend the project or parts of it, put conditions on it or issue
whatever order she chooses.
There is currently no injunction
on the project and it is not clear why DOT is waiting for the ruling
before construction begins. When the lawsuit was first filed, the
agency had indicated it would continue until the court ordered
“Initially, the plan was to start earlier this year,” Jennings said. “All along they’ve known the issues were ongoing.”
contractor for the Oregon Inlet bridge, he said, can start anytime now.
The $215.8 million contract was awarded in July 2011 to design-build
team PCL Civil Constructors Inc. and HDR Engineering Inc. of the
“They’ll be ready to react when they have the decision on the lawsuit,” Jennings said.
Another legal matter could also gum up the works.
November, the SELC asked a judge to review its challenge to the
project’s Major CAMA Permit that was issued in September. Simply put,
the state permit allows construction of the Bonner replacement.
chairman of the state Coastal Resources Commission, Bob Emory, in
October had denied the group’s request for a third-party hearing on the
Attorneys have recently filed briefs on the matter in Wake County Superior Court, said CRC spokeswoman Michele Walker.
Barbour said the CAMA permit is still in place. The DOT is awaiting
approval of the 404 permit and the Coast Guard permit for the Oregon
He said the three-year project continues to have
support from legislators and the governor, and he expects it will be
able to be completed by 2016 or 2017, including demolition of the old