Statement recommends Currituck bridge option

By on March 31, 2010

The recommended alternative for a mid-Currituck County bridge would displace the fewest homes and businesses and would not require substantial expansion of U.S. 158 and N.C. 12, according to a draft environmental impact statement made available Tuesday night by the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.

North Carolina’s first public-private partnership for a major transportation project would ease traffic congestion, speed up evacuation and cut travel time from Virginia by almost half, the statement said.

But according the turnpike authority, it would be open to traffic in late 2014, at least a year later than what had been generally projected.

The project would be funded by bonds and federal loans paid back by toll revenues, the statement said, eliminating the need to use vehicle and fuel tax revenues.

“This recommendation is made taking into account cost and design considerations; travel benefits; community, natural resource, and other impacts; and public involvement comments,” the statement said.

Once public hearings have been conducted and comments gathered, a preferred alternative is likely to be chosen for inclusion in a final environmental impact statement from five still under consideration.

Because the mid-Currituck span would reduce traffic east of the Wright Memorial Bridge, there would be no immediate need to widen U.S. 158 to N.C. 12 or expand the intersection of the two roads at Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores under the recommended alternative, the statement said. For evacuation purposes, a third outbound lane could be built or the center turning lane could be used.

Changing the intersection to an interchange is being studied, but it has not been funded, according to the statement.

Northern Dare County towns have long supported construction of a mid-Currituck bridge to ease the massive traffic jams that have become the norm during summer weekends along N.C.12 and U.S 158. Traffic routinely backs up across the Wright Memorial Bridge and sometimes as far west as Grandy in Currituck County on summer Saturdays.

Under the recommended alternative, improvements for hurricane evacuation on the Currituck mainland would have to be made only in the 5 miles of U.S. 158 from the bridge exit north to N.C. 168, the statement said. That could be accomplished by building a third lane that would otherwise be used as a shoulder or by opening the center turning lane to create a third outbound lane.

Not building a bridge would involve widening N.C. 12 to four lanes and turning U.S. 158 into a six-lane super corridor, the study said.

The cost of the recommended alternative, the study said, would range between $685.3 million and $816.2 million. In 2008, the study said, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $15 million per year for repayment of bonds or payment of debt service not covered by toll revenues.

Under normal traffic conditions the bridge would reduce the driving time between Hampton Roads and Corolla from 156 minutes to 80 minutes, according to the statement.

Aydlett, a small community on the west side of the Currituck Sound, would feel the greatest affect from the project. Views would change dramatically and traffic noise would increase, the study said.

Under the recommended alternative, two options for building an approach through Aydlett are proposed. The study did not specify a preference for either. One would put toll booths at an interchange of the approach road and U.S. 158. The approach would be elevated over Maple Swamp. The other would put the approach on fill through the swamp with five wildlife passages underneath and the toll plaza in Aydlett, an option residents oppose.

The recommended option also has two alternatives for landings in Corolla: One at the southern end of Corolla Bay at an intersection with N.C. 12 about 2 miles north of the Albacore Street retail area; the other about a half mile mile south of the Albacore Street retail area.

N.C. 12 would become four lanes from the intersection with the bridge to Seashell Lane.

A bridge between the Currituck County mainland and the northern beaches in Corolla has been under discussion for more than 20 years. The project gained momentum when it was taken over by the Turnpike Authority about five years ago.

Toll amounts were not specified in the the study. David Joyner, executive director of the authority, said Wednesday that tolls would be established by the authority’s board after financing and the cost of the project are nailed down.

“The rate will not be established to make a profit,” he said.

Currituck Development Group, which is part of ACS-Dragados, a Spanish company, is the private partner. Joyner said that besides building bridges, the firm has expertise in financing.

“The secret today is money,” he said.

Completion of the draft environmental impact statement is no guarantee that the bridge will be built by the projected date or that it will be built at all. But because it will not directly affect federal land and it is being built through a public-private partnership, it seems more likely. The first draft environmental impact statement for the Bonner Bridge replacement over Oregon Inlet was done in 1993 and that project is still stalled pending more study of its effects on the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The mid-Currituck bridge study will be available at Currituck County Courthouse, the Corolla Library, Currituck County Public Library, Dare County Library, the Town of Duck Administrative Building, Kitty Hawk Town Hall, North Carolina Department of Transportation Maintenance Yard Office, Maple, North Carolina, Southern Shores Town Hall and the the turnpike authority’s Web site: www.ncturnpike.org.

Public Hearings are scheduled for the Ramada Plaza in Kill Devil Hills Nags May 18, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla May 19 and the Currituck County Center May 20. There will also be meetings with elected officials.

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