|The Bonner Bridge.|
There’s a lot happening with Outer Banks bridges these days–a couple of maintenance issues and a huge lawsuit that was settled very much in NCDOT’s favor.
First the maintenance since that will effect everyone coming or leaving the Outer Banks. Both the Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet and the Wright Memorial Bridge are undergoing much needed maintenance.
The twin span Wright Memorial Bridge, that crosses the Albemarle Sound at Kitty Hawk is the most important link with the mainland and starting about two weeks ago, the outbound bridge was closed for maintenance. It’s ironic that the outbound bridge is the one that needs the work; it is the newer span, but the expansion joints never did seem to fit quite correctly and a trip across the bridge at 55 mph is enough to wear the shocks out in a car and make passengers seasick.
In addition to replacing the expansion joints the bridge will have to be repaved. Tthe whole project is scheduled to be completed by mid May.
When NCDOT originally scheduled this, the feeling was the impact would be minimal, with some minor backups on weekends. If only that was the case. The backups are not anything like what we see in the summer, but weekend traffic definitely crawls approaching the bridge. If at all possible, consider coming in through Manteo instead of Kitty Hawk–ie. take US 64 instead of US 158.
There are also ongoing repairs to the Bonner Bridge. The bridge is about 10 years past its predicted lifespan, so the maintenance is important, although at this point the disruption to traffic should be minor. Right now they are replacing cement on the super structure that has been corroded by the salt environment. Lane closures will be occurring but traffic should keep moving pretty well. The bridge, it should be clarified, is safe for travel. Maintenance costs will continue to escalate, however, as the countdown to the replacement bridge goes on.
The big news came out of federal district court earlier this month when Judge Louise Flanagan dismantled the case the Southern Environmental Law Center brought against NCDOT–and dismantled is being kind to how thoroughly she destroyed the SELC case.
According to the lawsuit, when NCDOT issued their Final Environmental Impact Statement they failed to completely comply with a process called NEPA 404 (National Environmental Protection Act, section 404) that outlines how a major project such as the Bonner Bridge replacement will be developed.
Which is an absurd argument. The FEIS is a remarkably detailed analysis of present and future needs, costs and impact to the environment.
What the SELC and the environmental groups didn’t like was they didn’t get their way. What they want to build is a 17.2 mile bridge in Pamlico Sound that would parallel Pea Island and reconnect at Rodanthe.
That concept was studied in detail, but was rejected because of cost. Here’s Judge Flanagan on that argument: “The commitment of state and federal resources to the Pamlico Sound Bridge Corridor alternative could deprive the state of the ability to replace other deficient bridges and advance other needed construction projects for two to seven years, depending on the source of funding,” she wrote.
There are still some hurdles the NCDOT will have to cross to get the project moving forward. There is a second case against CAMA for improperly permitting the bridge. With the federal court victory, NCDOT has been allowed to enter the case with CAMA and Flanagan’s ruling certainly strengthens their hand.
SELC may appeal the ruling–and probably will do so, waiting until the last moment to do so to drag the process out as long as possible.