It looks as though the replacement for the Bonner Bridge linking the northern Outer Banks with Hatteras Island may finally get built. After four years, two rounds of court cases and two years of negotiations, NCDOT and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) reached an agreement on how the bridge will be built.
At the heart of the deal the two sides reached, a new parallel span to the west of the existing bridge will be built. That was a huge concession on the part of the SELC. NCODT has agreed to reassess their plans for the S Curves north of Rodanthe and the current project at New Inlet where Hurricane Irene created a new inlet.
In both cases, NCDOT will develop plans to move the road west, into Pamlico Sound, bypassing the hot zones entirely and coming back to land on the north end of Rodanthe.
There are still a number of steps that have to be taken and questions answered. As an example, no one is certain at this point what the Bonner replacement bridge will cost. When the Record of Decision for the project was released in 2011, the price tag was $215.8 million. At a Monday press conference announcing the settlement, NC Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata acknowledged that the construction costs had gone up and the bridge would cost more to build.
Questions also remain about what will be the best route to traverse the sound for the project areas in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, what the permitting process will be for a new right of way through the refuge and what the time line will be.
Nonetheless, the agreement is a very significant step for both sides that have historically been at odds.