CHAPEL HILL – The Southern Environmental Law Center is urging state transportation officials to reject Gov. Pat McCrory’s request to hurry up construction of the long-planned mid-Currituck bridge project on the Outer Banks.
McCrory announced in November that provisions included in the 2015-17 state budget he signed would get the proposed toll bridge and other transportation projects built sooner than planned. Revenue including $700 million in new funding for transportation during the two years and a stop to the annual transfer of $216 million from the Highway Fund to the state’s general fund would allow the mid-Currituck bridge between the mainland and Corolla to be accelerated by two years and other highway projects by as much as three years, McCrory said Nov. 19.
The law center sent an email Nov. 24 to members of the N.C. Board of Transportation saying speeding up construction on the project and prioritizing it over other improvements would be “ill-advised.” The message was also sent to the board by regular mail.
“We are asking the Board of Transportation to get some more information before they expedite this project,” said Kym Hunter, a staff attorney at the lace center’s Chapel Hill office.
The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday in Raleigh.
Hunter said Monday there were “unanswered questions” related to the project, including its environmental implications, as well as more urgent transportation needs but the project costs were a primary concern.
“There are a lot of other needs on the Outer Banks,” she said, adding that the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division 1, which includes Currituck County, “might end up in real trouble” in terms of road funding.
The project hasn’t received the necessary environmental approvals necessary to move forward and will “likely encounter significant legal and administrative delays,” according to the law center’s letter.
The letter also notes that the proposed bridge scored poorly under the Strategic Transportation Improvement Plan, the state’s prioritization formula for road projects, and doesn’t provide a high-level of benefit to North Carolina.
DOT has yet to determine that the bridge project is financially feasible, and the department’s working cost estimates are “likely insufficient,” the law center said.
Tolls to help fund the project were estimated at up to $26 for a one-way crossing when toll revenue was supposed to fund only a quarter of the project cost, the law center notes. Now DOT wants tolls to fund 60 percent of the project cost.
Recent estimates for construction of the 7-mile-long bridge over Currituck Sound were at least $410 million.