April 26, 2013
Proponents say Mid-Currituck Bridge still on track
By CATHERINE KOZAK
proposed bill that would change the funding mechanism for the planned
Mid-Currituck Bridge and Cape Fear Skyway may be giving proponents the
jitters, but even if the bill passes, the projects are not necessarily
An amendment to House Bill 10 would lift dedicated
“gap” funds and place the bridges in the funding mix to compete with
other projects in the division.
State Rep. Bob Steinburg,
R-Chowan, said he is confident that 7-mile bridge between the Currituck
mainland and Corolla will survive the legislative churn.
“The project wouldn’t be dead,” Steinburg said.
nab construction dollars, the bridge would have to rank high among
top-priority highway projects under the state transportation
department’s Transportation Improvement Program. It would, however, be
prioritized according to a list of criteria that include job creation
and health and safety concerns.
Steinburg said that has had assurances by Tony Tata, the state Secretary of Transportation, on the fate of the bridge.
is my understanding that regardless of what happens to this House bill,
this project would still rank very high,” he said. “Secretary Tata told
me that the bridge will be built. He didn’t say when it would be built,
but he said it will be built.”
But Steinburg conceded that if
costs for the bridge are revised upward, the state Department of
Transportation may not look as kindly on the Currituck span.
the works for nearly 30 years, the $660 million project would trim an
hour off the drive from Virginia to Corolla and address traffic
congestion that routinely clogs the roads leading to the northern Outer
Banks, stretching from U.S. 158 north of the Wright Memorial Bridge
through Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores to N.C. 12 through Duck to
Travelers from the north heading to Hatteras and
Ocracoke also find the weekend traffic jams on the northern Outer Banks
Even local residents who live off back roads
winding through residential neighborhoods can’t escape the weekend
traffic because GPS-enabled maps direct tourists to the alternate
Peter Bishop, the director of economic
development for Currituck County, said that traffic has become the No.
1 complaint with visitors to the Outer Banks. On a summer weekend, what
should be a 1.5-hour trip from Moyock can turn into four or more hours.
When Hurricanes Irene and Sandy closed Highway 12 to Hatteras, he said,
the traffic got heavier when Hatteras vacationers were diverted to the
And with the beaches in New York and New Jersey still
severely damaged from Sandy, Bishop said he expects that Corolla will
have more visitors this summer, making the traffic even worse.
there is growing concern that traffic congestion, already a challenge
in hurricane evacuation, will make tourists go somewhere else.
can see how that mentally kind of builds up,” Bishop said, referring to
someone crawling for hours in traffic. “They think, ‘OK, I can get to
the beach four hours earlier.’”
Traffic counts are important
in determining how the bridge ranks with other competing road projects.
Road congestion counts for 20 percent of a project’s score. The higher
the traffic count, the higher the project scores. Improving road safety
counts another 10 percent. The state looks at crash rates on the
highway. The more accidents, the higher the points. Road conditions,
time savings for drivers, and economic benefits to the region are
factored as well.
Considering the value of tourism to the Outer
Banks and the state, he said, the Mid-Currituck Bridge is an economic
and safety necessity. It would speed up hurricane evacuation times,
increase employment opportunities on both sides of the bridge, decrease
commuting time for seasonal workers, and vastly improve the travel
experience for tourists.
Tourism revenue in North Carolina in
2011 exceeded $18.4 billion, providing about 188,000 jobs and $4.18
billion in wages, according to the state Commerce Department.
the barrier islands in Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties, tourism
accounts for 5.6 percent of the state’s entire tourism economy. With
annual visitation of about 8 million, the Outer Banks represents $1.03
billion in visitor spending, 13,200 jobs, $203.7 million in local
payrolls and about $1 billion in tax revenue for local communities.
said that the Mid-Currituck Bridge would also play an important role in
creating a new economic engine he is proposing for the northeast corner
of the state, which has lost many jobs in regional industries such as
manufacturing, fishing, lumber and agriculture.
A bill Steinburg
has recently introduced would use the Port of Norfolk to foster
enterprises in counties located within 1 ½-hours from the port that
could be become part of the foreign trade market. He said the
initiative could open up the region to economic development, and the
bridge is an essential component.
“I am very excited about the potential we have in northeastern North Carolina,” he said.
March 6, state Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, sponsored an amendment to
House Bill 10 that would remove the designated funds for the three
proposed toll projects, including the Garden Parkway near Charlotte,
and make them compete with other transportation projects. Rabon said
that the amendment, which has been approved by the Senate
Transportation Committee and the Senate, would prevent politics from
influencing road projects.
The amended House bill passed the Senate but has yet to be taken up by the House.
a Republican, Steinburg is well aware of the bitterness some members of
his party have toward the region and projects like the Mid-Currituck
“I believe this is a backlash,” he said. “They’re
going after this bridge because of some animus they still have for Sen.
Basnight. People see this as his project.”
But Steinburg said
that the bridge stands on its own merits, regardless of political
perceptions. “It’s nothing but personal,” he said about the
Republicans’ distaste for Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat and longtime
Senate president before his retirement in 2011. “There’s a great
deal of resentment of some of the stuff he pulled. That’s why, sadly,
Currituck is paying the cost today.”
Whatever the outcome of
the Rabon bill, said Nicole Meister, a DOT spokesperson, the projects
would not be slated for elimination as some fear. Like any other
transportation project, they would be ranked in priority on five-year
and 10-year state transportation plans for each of the state divisions.
And even if a project does not rank high, she said, it would go back into the priority process for future consideration.
reason why we support this is we want to take politics out of
transportation planning,” Meister said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re
not going to be built, or they’re going to be built.”
said that the proposed bill does not remove the possibility of tolling.
But instead of being the main approach to funding the projects, tolling
would one of the options considered in funding.
“It gives it more flexibility,” she said.
proposed Cape Fear Skyway between New Hanover and Brunswick counties is
also necessary to alleviate traffic congestion on the Cape Fear
Memorial Bridge and to provide southern access to the Port of
Wilmington, said Laura Padgett, chairwoman of the Wilmington Urban Area
Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“We desperately need another
crossing over the Cape Fear River,” she said. “But this one will be
different because it will be significantly closer to the
The proposed 9.5-mile project, which
crosses about 1,200 feet of river, would connect the U.S. 17 bypass in
Brunswick County to U.S. 421 near Wilmington.
But the $1 billion cost has raised some eyebrows.
said costs range from $700 million to $1.1 billion, depending on how it
is funded, whether or not it is toll project and whether the financing
cost is included.
Although the 44-year-old Cape Fear
Memorial Bridge is due for replacement, Padgett does not see the Skyway
project, which would be a cable stayed bridge, as a replacement for
that lift bridge.
The Isabel Holmes Bridge, another lift bridge, also crosses the Cape Fear River to north of downtown Wilmington.
crossing the Memorial Bridge on peak days can be as high as 100,000
vehicles, Padgett said, with frequent backups at rush hour and during
summer and holiday weekends.
The Skyway would improve access to
the port, and would speed up evacuation before hurricanes as well as
emergency evacuation from the area near Progress Energy’s Brunswick
Nuclear Plant in Southport.
“It’s a safety issue,” she said.
the request of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, DOT has agreed
to reopen the Environmental Impact Statement for the Skyway project.
Padgett said the plan will determine the best route and whether the
project is feasible.
The environmental statement is expected
to be completed by 2016, she said. The project is estimated to
take about five years to construct.
Padgett said that most people seem to understand that the Skyway project is necessary.
“I think they pretty much support it,” she said. “I think the issue is where to put it.”
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)