Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Currituck mid-county bridge to cost $460M

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I know this topic is a near weekly entry on the blog, but the updates are important to gain the most up to date information. I have a copy of the handout from the meeting that took place on 2-26-08. It is too large of a file to post (but I'm working on it), in the meantime if you would like a copy, I can email it to you. Below is the article in the Daily Advance


CURRITUCK — The long-awaited mid-county bridge linking Currituck's mainland and Outer Banks would cost $459.6 million, take four years to build and cost users a toll of between $6 and $12, officials said Tuesday.

Representatives of North Carolina Turnpike Authority met with Currituck commissioners Tuesday to discuss their recommendations for the bridge project. The meeting was held ahead of informational meetings the Turnpike Authority had scheduled with the public about the project both Tuesday night and tonight.

Turnpike Authority officials are projecting that if all goes as planned, construction on the seven-mile, two-lane bridge across Currituck Sound could begin as early as October 2009. Traffic could be flowing across the span by the fall of 2013, officials said.

Before then, however, the Turnpike Authority will have to complete a draft environmental impact statement on the bridge project this summer and a final EIS by May 2009. If those environmental studies don't turn up anything untoward, the bridge project — first discussed in the 1980s and approved by state lawmakers in 1989 — should be approved in August 2009 and move forward, officials said.

The bridge project was all but stalled

until the Turnpike Authority — a creation of the Legislature — took over its planning and administration from the N.C. Department of Transportation in 2006. Since then, the project has been on an accelerated path.

Steve DeWitt, chief engineer with the Turnpike Authority, said there is already a great deal of buzz about the bridge project, which would be built with a combination of government and private funds.

"We have a tremendous amount of interest from contractors and financiers," DeWitt said. "This project makes sense to a lot of people."

Turnpike Authority officials said that their study has led them to conclude that the bridge is the best way to relieve summer traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 158 and N.C. 12. Without the bridge, Turnpike Authority officials have projected that by the summer of 2035, it will take a motorist four hours to travel from Aydlett to Corolla, and 35.9 hours to safely evacuate the Outer Banks when a hurricane threatens.

John Page, a consultant on the project with Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, said six corridors originally were considered for the bridge. After much study, however, the number of potential corridors have been narrowed to one on the mainland and two in Corolla. The site on the mainland is located north of Aydlett, while the sites in Corolla are near Albacore Street and Clubhouse Drive.

In addition to the bridge, the Turnpike Authority is recommending several highway improvements to accommodate the span and aid hurricane evacuation. They include widening 2-4 miles of N.C. 12 in Corolla; adding a third northbound lane on U.S. Highway 158 near Aydlett and N.C. Highway 168 at Barco; and adding a third northbound lane to U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk.

Page said one of the alternatives to building the bridge — widening existing roadways like U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 — has been dropped from the Turnpike Authority's study. That option would have affected too many homes and businesses, he said.

Turnpike Authority officials originally forecast that the bridge could cost anywhere from $445 million and $955 million. They appear to have narrowed the cost in their latest projection to $459 million, although officials cautioned that was just an estimate.

Wilbur Smith Associates, an engineering firm that conducted the study for the Turnpike Authority, had recommended a one-way peak season toll of $8 and an offseason toll of $6 for bridge users. However, officials said Tuesday that the toll could be as much as $12.

Whatever the Turnpike Authority ultimately decides, there will likely be some accommodation for local residents who have to cross the bridge for work and other uses. DeWitt said they would likely be charged a lesser rate.

Turnpike Authority officials also announced Tuesday that the toll booths will only be stationed on the mainland side of the bridge, not in Corolla.

The Turnpike Authority and DOT officials met with Corolla residents last night to discuss the bridge project and will host a workshop at Griggs Elementary School today from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. A third session will be held at the Pitt Center in Southern Shores on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.