October 11, 2013

Critical projects on Highway 12 move along despite
legal challenges to bridge replacement


 Despite two lawsuits that have stymied progress on the replacement bridge over Oregon Inlet, the state Department of Transportation is moving along with several critical projects on the highway south of the bridge.

A contract to construct a permanent bridge over the new inlet in Pea Island was advertised for bids by the department this week, public workshops are expected to be held by year’s end to allow input on a long-term solution at Rodanthe, and a beach nourishment project at S-Curves is being prepared to be put out for bid, though it will not be done until spring.

Jerry Jennings, NCDOT division engineer, said that the legal actions taken by environmental groups to stop the planned replacement for the 50-year-old Herbert C. Bonner Bridge do not affect the agency’s ability to work on the Highway 12 portions of the project.

“They are tied to the bridge project itself,” Jennings said about lawsuits pending in state and federal courts.

Construction of the new $216 million Bonner Bridge has been stalled in the courts.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Defenders of Wildlife and the National Park Conservation Association, sued to stop the project in 2011.  Last month, a federal judge ruled against the plaintiffs, who have since appealed her decision.

When the state issued a CAMA permit allowing the project to begin, the environmental groups then challenged that.  The permit was stayed in June because of the legal challenge.  It could be months before a hearing on the matter can be scheduled.

Two projects repairing deteriorating parts of Bonner’s concrete and steel structure are underway, resulting in occasional lane closures on the 2.4-mile span.

Jennings said that construction of the Pea Island and Rodanthe fixes are continuing as planned, “subject to further lawsuits, obviously.” But he said he is currently not aware of threats of any additional legal action.

After the contract is awarded to replace the temporary metal bridge over the inlet that was punched through Pea Island during Hurricane Irene, Jennings said that construction is expected to begin early next year and be completed in about three years. Traffic will be maintained in a phased approach, he said, with vehicles diverted or rerouted as appropriate to the level of activity.

In a press release issued by DOT on Thursday, the agency said that putting the contract out to bid followed signing of the project’s 244-page record of decision by the Federal Highway Administration, the final step before construction can begin.

“This is an important step forward, because the new 2-mile bridge will offer reliability to the residents, visitors and businesses that depend on N.C. 12,” NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata said in the release. “I’m proud of the team who worked for years to turn our short-term fix after Hurricane Irene into a long-term solution.”

The other long-term solution at Rodanthe has not yet been chosen, Jennings said. Two options, a bridge within the existing right-of-way, or a bridge that loops out into Pamlico Sound, are still on the table. The chosen alternative will be decided after the workshop meeting and public comment is reviewed, he said.

Whatever the choice, the Rodanthe site has been determined to be suitable for a design-bid project, he said. That means the contractor will design and build the project at the same time, rather than bid on a project that has already been designed, like at Pea Island.
“It allows for more efficiencies,” Jennings said.

Construction at Rodanthe will also take about three years, he said.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers beach nourishment project planned at S-Curves by Mirlo Beach so far does not appear to have been crippled by the government shutdown and is almost ready for construction.

“We’re hoping it will soon be advertised by the Corps,” Jennings said. Most of the easements and permits have been acquired, he said, adding that he does not expect any problems securing the final documents.

Two offshore sand sources have been identified, he said. The contractor has the discretion to choose from either site.

Weather permitting, construction is expected to begin in the spring. Not including mobilization time, the nourishment should take about three months. 

DOT and the Corps had been saying the nourishment would be done by late summer or early fall.

The 2-mile project will require 1.5-million to 2-million cubic yards of sand and cost about $20 million.

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