North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata was the guest on the Radio Hatteras interview show, “To the Point,” on Sunday, July 5.
In the interview, Tata discusses the negotiations to end the legal impasse with environmental groups over the replacement of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge and answers questions about what comes next in the continuing efforts to assure a safe and reliable transportation corridor to and from Hatteras Island.
On June 15, Gov. Pat McCrory, Tata, and other officials gathered on a Oregon Inlet beach at the southern end of the bridge to announce that a settlement had been reached and the a new bridge would finally be built — after 25 years of planning, environmental studies, and legal wrangling.
The settlement came after nine months of negotiating to end a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The environmental groups objected to the plan by DOT and the Federal Highway Administration to replace the bridge with a parallel span and address “hotspots” along Highway 12 on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in segments as needed at a later date. The groups favored a long, 17.5-mile bridge, which would bypass the refuge entirely and that DOT said it did not have the funds to build.
In exchange for dropping their lawsuit, the environmental groups got an agreement from DOT to consider — and probably build — bridges out in the Pamlico Sound to bypass at least seven miles of the southern end of the Pea Island refuge, which they call a “national treasure.”
The lawsuit has not been formally dismissed yet. In the settlement, NCDOT agreed to do these things before dismissal:
Cancel the contract for the permanent bridge at Pea Island Inlet, which was done the day of the settlement announcement.
Apply for an amended CAMA permit for an new interim structure at Pea Island Inlet to provide safe and reliable travel through that area until there is a long-term solution. DOT says that it expects that the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources can issue the permit in about 60 to 75 days.
Secure the approval of the merger team, which is comprised of representatives from state and federal agencies and regulators, to approve DOT’s preferred long-term solution to build a “jug-handle” bridge out into the Pamlico Sound to bypass the S-curves in Rodanthe. The merger team has met and viewed the “jug-handle” alternative favorably, and DOT is waiting for various agencies to weigh in.
Tata says in the interview that the contractor on the Bonner Bridge replacement, the design-build team of PCL Civil Constructors Inc. and HDR Engineering Inc. of the Carolinas, are preparing to begin construction on the Bonner Bridge replacement.
He said that construction should start in the spring and should be completed in three years.
Also in the interview Tata discusses other transportation issues on Hatteras and Ocracoke, along with such topics as privatizing the state ferries and charging for priority permits.
“To the Point,” which is hosted by Island Free Press editor Irene Nolan, airs on the island’s community radio station, FM 101.5 and FM 99.9, at 5 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month. It is repeated on the second and fourth Sunday. Those who don’t live on Hatteras can listen to the show on Sundays through live streaming at www.radiohatteras.org.
Scroll down and click on the “To the Point” logo to listen to the audio of the interview.
MORE ABOUT RADIO HATTERAS
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