Federal appeals court judges recently upheld a district court judge’s decision that national environmental rules were followed when a proposed bridge project to build a second connection between the Outer Banks and Currituck County mainland was approved.
The three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit announced Feb. 23 their decision affirming a December 2021 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina that National Environmental Policy Act procedure had been followed.
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of No Mid-Currituck Bridge-Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to The Mid-Currituck Bridge and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation against the North Carolina Department Of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
“Plaintiffs — an environmental organization and a group of citizens opposed to the bridge — claim the defendants didn’t follow the procedures laid out in the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., when they approved the bridge project. The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment for the defendants. We affirm,” the judges wrote.
The mid-Currituck toll bridge project, which is expected to cost at least $500 million, would be two, two-lane bridges north of the Wright Memorial Bridge. NCDOT officials say the project will help alleviate congestion and improve evacuation traffic flow in the event of a storm.
NCDOT, the state Turnpike Authority and the Federal Highway Administration approved the final environmental impact statement for the mid-Currituck bridge project in January 2012. Work on the record of decision was paused after the final environmental impact statement was approved so the state could sort funding after the Strategic Transportation Investments legislation was signed June 2013, according to NCDOT.
The mid-Currituck bridge project was funded in the 2016-2025 and 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Program. Once funding for the project was reestablished, work toward a record of decision resumed.
Since it had been three years, the final environmental impact statement was reevaluated to consider any possible changes. The final environmental impact statement was found to be “an accurate analysis of the anticipated project impacts and therefore a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is not required,” NCDOT officials said. “The record of decision was published in 2019, signifying the completion of the environmental study process.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed in April 2019 a lawsuit challenging the Federal Highway Administration and NCDOT’s environmental analysis and decision document for the project. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled Dec. 13, 2021, in favor of the two transportation agencies, which was the decision the law center had appealed.
“North Carolina has many unmet transportation needs along its coast, but the Mid-Currituck Bridge is not one of them.” said Kym Meyer, senior attorney with the law center, in a statement. “We will continue to work to ensure that North Carolina money is not wasted on this costly, unwise project. There are much more affordable solutions to ease traffic in this area of the Outer Banks, and those solutions can be put in place much more swiftly, and with less damage to the Currituck Sound.”
Southern Shores, Duck, Currituck County, Dare County Tourism Board, Duck Community and Business Alliance Inc. and Currituck Chamber Of Commerce Inc. filed in June an amicus brief with the 4th Circuit in support of the project.
“The Town wishes to express its appreciation for all those whose hard work paid off in advancing the construction of this much needed infrastructure,” Southern Shores Mayor Elizabeth Morey said in a statement.
This decision overcomes a huge hurdle and allows planning, design and permitting work to resume, town officials said.