Two weeks ago, Trogdon said in an interview that he expected a Record of Decision – the final step before such things as letting contracts and getting permits – was still expected about the end of November and that the contracts would be put out for bid in February.
You can check my Oct. 30 blog for those details and background information.
However, on Tuesday, Nov. 10, Trogdon, in a telephone conference, told the Dare County Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge that the schedule was falling six to eight weeks behind.
Here is the new timetable:
• Currently a revised final Section 4(f) consultation, signed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), has been sent to various agencies whose public lands will be affected by a new bridge and any subsequent work on the frequently overwashed Highway 12 through Pea Island. Agencies commenting will include the Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Administration, National Park Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
• Comments from the agencies on the DOT plan to build a parallel bridge and use an adaptive management plan to deal with Highway 12 are due by Nov. 26.
• After that DOT and FHWA will have to review comments and respond where needed.
• Concurrently, DOT has completed an Environmental Assessment of the plan. Trogdon says the FHWA asked that the environmental assessment replace the supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was what was planned last summer. Confusing terminology, but basically, DOT must review and assess the environmental impacts of the final plan.
• The draft of the Environmental Assessment is being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration.
• When that review is finished, perhaps in early December, the Environmental Assessment will be put out for public comment for 30 days.
• When those comments are received and reviewed, DOT can issue a Record of Decision (ROD).
• Trogdon and his staff said they think that the ROD can be issued by early or mid-January.
• DOT now expects the contracts will be awarded in June of next year.
However, Trogdon said the design-build bridge project is on track for completion in 2014.
The current preferred alternative, Trogdon said, is Parallel Bridge North with NC 12 Transportation Management Plan to the south.
That means, he said, that DOT will replace the 2.7 mile bridge parallel to the current one and move to “adaptive management” of the highway south of the bridge and its erosion and overwash problems.
“We are going to wait until the environment tells us what we need to know,” Trogdon told the bridge committee.
He also said the adaptive management plan would allow DOT to use “the best approach at the time needed” on future Highway 12 problems.
“We’ve already looked at all the options,” Trogdon said. The “adaptive” management plan will allow “the best technique at the right time in the corridor.”
Once the Record of Decision is issued, environmental groups that are opposed to the parallel bridge option and still favor a 17-mile bridge that bypasses Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, can take legal action against DOT.
“We’ve had strong indications that SELC (Southern Environmental Law Center) is considering a lawsuit,” Trogdon said.
“We have a high level of confidence from Federal Highway attorneys that the approach we are taking is legally defensible,” he added.
Trogdon emphasized that DOT is “very comfortable with this process and where we are going.”
However, the fact remains that Pea Island refuge manager has continued to call the parallel bridge and dealing with erosion by rebuilding parts of Highway 12 “incompatible” with the refuge.
And U.S. Fish and Wildlife may not change its mind.
Perhaps the process will be clearer by early December, and we will publish information about public comment periods as soon as we get it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The revised final section of the 4 (f) consultation is available on The Outer Banks Task Force Web site, www.obtf.org. Look under OBTF documents.