August 18, 2015

Efforts to replace Bonner Bridge span 25 years

Keeping up with the bridge replacement schedule has not been easy since DOT started planning 25 years ago to replace the aging span that opened in 1963.

Meanwhile, funds have been poured into repairing the bridge, which has had a safety rating as low as a 2 out of a possible 100. DOT officials say that with the repairs, the bridge is still safe for the public.

About 15 years ago, a plan was put forward to build a 17.5-mile bridge parallel to the island that would bypass Pea Island and land in Rodanthe.

That bridge, preferred by many environmental organizations, was declared too costly to build, and a federal, state, and local interagency task force endorsed the shorter, parallel bridge.

NCDOT's record of decision to proceed with the parallel bridge in 2010 was immediately followed by a lawsuit by two environmental groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law, to stop the project. The environmental groups also objected to DOT's plan to address the "hotspots" on Highway 12 in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge as needed.

Finally, five years later, all lawsuits have been settled and the bridge project can move forward, along with projects to bridge two problems areas -- Pea Island Inlet, opened by Hurricane Irene in 2011, and the S-curves in north Rodanthe.

Here are brief chronologies of the efforts to replace the bridge and those to bridge the "hotspots."


1990. State begins feasibility study for replacing Bonner Bridge

November 1993. Draft Environmental Impact Statement on bridge
replacement is released for review. It favors a parallel bridge.

Early 1994. Public hearings on DEIS.

1996. Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement is issued, which was never signed because of lack of consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

2001. Because it had been more than seven years since the completion of the DEIS, a re-evaluation is conducted to determine if the preliminary FEIS remains a viable alternative. Decision is made to prepare a supplement to the DEIS.

2002. Work begins on Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) supplement to DEIS.

September 2005. Supplemental DEIS completed and signed. It includes five alternatives, including short- and long-bridge options.

November 2005. Public hearings are held on SDEIS.

February 2007. Supplement to SDEIS is signed. This supplement to the supplement includes two new parallel bridge options.

March 2007. Two public meeting are held on the supplement to the Supplemental DEIS.

September 2008. Final Environmental Impact Statement is signed. It favors Parallel Bridge with Phased Approach /Rodanthe Bridge as the preferred alternative and addresses comments made on the SDEIS and SSDEIS.

May 2009. Parallel Bridge Corridor with Highway 12 Transportation Management Plan Alternative was added to the FEIS and selected as the preferred alternative. This is a variation on parallel bridge alternatives addressed in FEIS.

October 2009. Revised Section 4 (f) evaluation is issued in response to comments received on the FEIS. It determines Pamlico Sound Bridge –the long bridge -- is not feasible.

January 2010. Federal Highway Administration requests an Environmental Assessment of the preferred alternative in the FEIS.

May 2010. Environmental Assessment is released.

June 2010. Public comment period on EA is announced with public meetings scheduled for July.

December 2010.  DOT issues Record of Decision to build a parallel bridge and address the problems areas or "hotspots" in a segmented fashion at a later date.

July 1, 2011.  Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, file a lawsuit in federal court to stop the plan by NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

July 27, 2011.  DOT awards the contract to build the bridge replacement to PLC Civil Constructors and HDR Engineering.

September 2013. U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan rules in favor of NCDOT and FHWA.

October 2013.  SELC appeals lower court ruling on behalf of its clients.

May 2014.  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit hears oral arguments in appeal.

August 2014.  U.S. Court of Appeals issues decision that upholds part of lower court judge's decision and remands part back to her for further consideration.

Sept. 10, 2014.  DOT and other defendants and SELC, on behalf of its clients, announce that they are in conversations to negotiate an end to the lawsuit.

June 15, 2015.  Settlement is announced.

August 6, 2015.  Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals publishes its decision in the lawsuit, affirming in part and reversing in part the District Court decision and remands case back to Judge Louise Flanagan of the Eastern District of North Carolina.

August 11, 2015.  Case voluntarily dismissed on motion of all parties in U.S. District Court.

Spring 2016.  Construction expected to be begin.

2019. Bridge expected to be completed.

Pea Island lnlet and North Rodanthe

August 2011.  Hurricane Irene cuts a new inlet on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Highway 12 closed. The hurricane also opens a breach at the S-curves in North Rodanthe, which is filled in and the highway repaired.

Oct. 10, 2011 -- Highway 12 reopens with a temporary bridge.

October 2011. NCDOT staff meets with representatives from a dozen state and federal agencies to discuss possible options for permanently fixing the largest breach area on Pea Island and the breach at Rodanthe.

Early December 2011. NCDOT presents options for long-terms Highway 12 repairs to the public meetings and accepts public comment.

Late December 2011.  Merger team meets.  Takes beach nourishment option off the table for Pea Island Inlet.  In Rodanthe, where the highway was breached at the north end, the remaining options for a long-term fix include building a bridge within the easement and building a bridge that would extend into the Pamlico Sound. An option for a 7-mile bridge from Pea Island Inlet to north Rodanthe, proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also on the table.

June 2012. After numerous meetings with teams of agency representatives and coastal scientists, the state Department of Transportation says it has “conceptually” chosen the long-term alternative at Pea Island that will stay within the existing easement.

February 2013.  DOT releases Environmental Assessment on long-term alternatives for Project IIa, Pea Island Inlet. Preferred alternative is permanent bridge in existing easement.

March 2013. DOT conducts public meetings and accepts comment on long-term alternatives for Pea Island Inlet.

March 20, 2013. Gov. Pat McCrory declares state of emergency at S-curves in north Rodanthe. State plan beach nourishment project by summer.

October 2013.  DOT issues Record of Decision on Pea Island long-term improvements.

December 2013.  DOT releases Environmental Assessment of long-term alternatives for bridging north Rodanthe. Two alternatives considered -- a 2.5 mile bridge that would be built in the existing right of way and a 3-mile bridge that would extend out into the Pamlico Sound.

December 2013. DOT awards $79 million contract to Parsons Construction Group to build new 2.1-mile permanent bridge over Pea Island Inlet.

January 2014.  DOT conducts public hearings and receives comments on long-terms plans for North Rodanthe.  

March 2014.  Parsons Construction Group begins construction on new permanent bridge over Pea Island Inlet, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2016.

July 2014.  Beach nourishment project begins at S-curves.

September 2014.  DOT issues stop work order on permanent Pea Island Inlet bridge, announces negotiations with environmental groups to end lawsuit.

September 2014.  Beach nourishment is completed at S-curves.

June 15, 2015.  DOT cancels contract with Parsons Construction Group for Pea Island Inlet bridge.

June 17, 2015.  Merger Team chooses bridge that swings out into Pamlico Sound as it preferred alternative for bridging the S-curves north of Rodanthe.


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