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.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Flood Insurance in Carova Beach

It is well known that the 4WD area of Carova Beach and the rest of the off road area is located in a CBRS ('COBRA") zone. As such, the area is not covered under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and homeowners have to seek out private flood insurance which can be costly. There are three primary flood zones classes, VE, AE or A, and Shaded X. Lenders of any federally-backed loan are required to maintain flood insurance in zones considered within the 100-year floodplain; said another way, zones that have a greater than 1% chance of flooding in any given year in a century. Both the AE and the VE zones are considered in this 100-year floodplain and thus lenders require the insurance. The Shaded X flood zone has less than a 1% and lenders (though at there discretion) typically do not make purchasing the flood insurance mandatory. Annual premiums and deductibles can vary based on elevations of the house and the flood zone. VE is the highest assigned risk and thus comes with th highest premiums.
To get a handle on the current private flood market, I emailed Gayle Drummond with Ocean Insurance Services, who quotes a lot of flood policies for my clients in the 4WD area. She responded with the following:

Cobra Primary Flood Coverage can be obtained through the proper channels in today’s insurance market. Because Cobra Flood Zones are not supported by the National Flood Insurance Program, premiums for this coverage can be expensive. Insurance Markets who have quoted Primary Flood Coverage in recent months have charged between $10,000 and $10,500 base premium with $25,000 to $50,000 deductibles for $250,000 of primary flood coverage on the dwelling in VE flood zones. Rates are slightly lower in areas other than V Zones.
Negative Elevations have been big issues for insured’s trying to find primary flood coverage. We find that many of the homes in the 4x4 area have a game room or other similar structure enclosed on the bottom floor. This enclosure drastically changes the hazard elevation for the home. Rather than considering the bottom of the second floor to be the lowest hazardous point, insurers must consider the bottom of the first floor as the lowest point. In most cases, this issue causes the homes to have a negative elevation. Many Insurers in today’s market seem very anxious about insuring Coastal Barrier Island homes that rest below the base flood elevation. But don’t lose heart! We have access to insurers who will consider writing these risks as well.

It should be noted that the private flood market has come along way in the past few years. Premiums used to be north of $25K in a VE zone with a $50K deductible only. Luckily, insurance agents like Gayle have hammered the flood coverage companies to lower their rates to a 'reasonable' level to keep homeownership feasible.
For more on this topic, or how to potentially be removed from the 100 year floodplain so as not to be required to carry the flood insurance, email me, and I would be happy to discuss on an individual basis.

All the best.


Monday, February 18, 2008

A Move to Restrict Beach Access in Carova

Published in the Daily Advance, below is an interesting article about limiting traffic on the Northern Beaches of the Outer Banks as well as discussion about a possible rebirth of the "service district".

Staff Writer

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Residents of Currituck's northern beaches believe one way to reduce vehicular traffic on the beaches would be to limit the number of out-of-county visitors during the summer months.

That's why a group of North Swan Beach property owners are proposing the county begin issuing passes to motorists seeking access to Swan Beach, North Swan Beach and Carova.

Under the proposal, Currituck residents and out-of-county visitors renting beach property would receive passes giving them open access to beach areas. However, only a limited number of out-of-county visitors would be issued beach passes each day.

Lynne Wilson, one of the North Swan Beach property owners proposing the idea, says access to the beaches could be controlled through a "guard gate." The gate could be placed on property between the end of the paved road on N.C. Highway 12 and the ramp that allows vehicles access to the beaches, she said.

Wilson said her group has already researched the idea, discovering not only that it's legal but that other beach communities around the country are using it.

"There would be a limited number of cars (from outside the county) allowed each day," she said. "It would be very well publicized."

The result of a controlled-access system, Wilson said, would be less traffic on the beaches and better safety.

Wilson and other North Swan Beach homeowners are floating their proposal at the same time that a controversial idea regarding northern beach access is resurfacing.

At a commission retreat on Jan. 28, Fruitville Township Commissioner Ernie Bowden, who represents the north beaches, again urged his fellow commissioners to consider the formation of a service district in the Carova area. The service district would allow the county to spend funds improving and maintaining interior roads behind the beach dunes.

Some residents oppose the district, fearing it would bring additional development to the northern beaches. Others have voiced concerns that the improved roads might negatively affect wetland areas, the beaches' fragile wildlife, and hinder the freedom of the Corolla wild horses.

But Currituck Emergency Management Director Stanley Griggs, who recently filed to run for a new at-large seat on the Board of Commissioners, said it's an issue he would like discussed again. In a Sept. 17, 2007 letter to Board of Commissioners Chairman Barry Nelms, Griggs outlines his safety concerns.

"Mixed uses on the beachfront, such as recreational activities and traffic, are incompatible, and in my view, a disaster waiting to happen," he writes. "Children in particular do not pay attention to, or are unaware of, the danger posed by passing vehicles. Improvement in infrastructure such as interior roads would go a long way in starting the process to change this very dangerous situation."

Griggs said Friday that he would like all of the stake-holders to discuss the service district issue with "everyone's interest at heart."

"It is a complex issue," he said.

Wilson, however, believes creation of a service district for roads would not improve safety on the beach.

"First of all, it would bring more traffic, and one of the major concerns now is the escalation of traffic on the beach, especially during the (summer) season," Wilson said.

Wilson said beach residents support the county filling in potholes along the existing interior roads. But they are opposed to the formation of a service district to upgrade the roads.

"A service district is kind of opening door to the possibility of not only more traffic, but also could lead down the road to more development because of easier access, and greater density development, which we definitely don't want to see,"

she said.

County Commissioner Owen Etheridge, who represents Crawford Township, said the road controversy on the northern beaches has been hanging over the commission board since last fall.

"Ultimately, we've got to do something to address this issue," he said.

County Manager Dan Scanlon said if a service district were created, the county would not be creating new paved roads in the northern beach area. He said the county would only spend money on projects like the grading of Sandfiddler Road, an existing interior road.

"We would not be creating a new road, not paving a road, not putting rock on a road, not shell," Scanlon said. "We're talking about going up there and pretty much putting a grade on it, widening it back out so two cars could pass each other, and addressing the blind intersections so that it is safe to travel the road."

Scanlon said there is a general public safety concern about the condition of the interior roads.

"A couple years ago, we had a lot of rains, and some of the roads flooded," Scanlon said. "It was hard to get up in there. All the public safety agencies expressed a concern (about it), as well as the post office."

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Update on Mid-Currituck Bridge, Public Meetings Scheduled

The NC Turnpike Authority is sponsoring 3 informational workshops on the mid-county bridge at the end of this month allowing residents and property owners an opportunity to see what is planned, ask questions, and express their views over the proposed options for the bridge and its various routes. All workshops are from 4pm-8pm and will be held as follows:

Feb 26th Hampton Inn in Corolla
Feb 27th Griggs Elementary School in Poplar Branch
Feb 28th Southern Shores Town Hall

The NC Turnpike has also updated their website featuring new cost figures and also road widening options on both the Outer Banks and mainland terminus points. A recent article on the bridge & meetings can be read here.

********Previous Post********

Saturday, December 15, 2007
Latest Report on the Mid-County Bridge

Easily the most asked question I receive is "When is the bridge going to come?" For most of you familiar with the Outer Banks, that questions has been asked for 20+ years now. Lately, we have seen some significant developments that could bring this mythical bridge to fruition. The best source of information on this issue can be found at the NC Turnpike Authority's website. This is the outfit charged with building the bridge and they offer a nice timeline and potential pathways for the bridge. Locally, the most recent article for the bridge can be found by clicking here

The bridge is a very hot topic on the Outer Banks. While there seems to be a general concensus that the bridge will boost property values, there is a strong concern that the bridge will have an adverse effect on the character of the Northern Outer Banks. I'm not sure what the right answer is here, but surely the debate will continue long after the bridge is built.

From an investment angle, so many that I talk to tend to use the bridge as a heavy determining factor when investing (or not investing) on the Northern Outer Banks. Those more skeptical about the bridge are holding off until they at least see some pilings in the water, others are buying now thinking it is inevitable. In my view, I think you will see a positive correlation between property values and bridge development.

Right now, property values are the lowest they have been in years, albeit for a number of factors. A purchase now gets you a relatively low buy-in yet there is NO guarantee of the bridge being built, thus higher risk and higher reward. Once construction begins on the bridge, property values will likely be higher but the guarantee will be greater for bridge completion, thus medium risk and medium reward. Obviously, a completed bridge offers low get the idea.

Mail route to Carova will continue

While the luxury of isolation tends to run counter to convenience and services, it appears the residents of Carova Beach have worked out an arrangement with the USPS to continue utilizing the post office boxes located near the Carova Beach Fire Dept. A recent article in the Virginia Pilot has further details.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

State of the Wild Horse Herd

Current State of the Herd
What Carova Beach blog would be complete without an update on the health and numbers of our famous mascots, the wild horses? Currituck County promotes them as our ambassadors on the Northern Outer Banks, but so often people inquiry as to how many horses they are and how they are doing physically. To find out, I emailed Karen McCalpin, executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. In her response she wrote:

There are currently 89 horses in the Corolla herd. We know from the horses that we bring off the beach for adoption (27 in the last year) that the wild herd has a very low parasite load and is in excellent health. The overall health of the mares that have been darted as part of the birth control program will be also be enhanced as a result. We have targeted the oldest and the youngest mares. Not having a foal every year will improve their health and longevity. DNA samples have been sent to Texas A&M where they are being analyzed by Dr. Gus Cothran, the leading equine geneticist in the country and an expert on wild horses. Dr. Cothran will be preparing a report on the current genetic health of the herd. The Currituck County Wild Horse Management Plan, originally written in 1999, calls for a maximum herd size of 60. This number was not based on science and is not a genetically viable number. The goal of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund is to maintain the herd at a number that will ensure their maximum physical and genetic health.

For more information on the herd you can go to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund website.