What’s Happening with the Mid-Currituck Bridge

mid-currituck bridgeThat the Outer Banks is a wonderful place to visit is a given. A beautiful setting, soft sand, ideal for a family vacation and reasonably priced compared to most tourist destinations, it makes sense that so many people choose to come.

If there is a consistent complaint from our visitors  though, it is getting here in the summer, especially on weekends, has become a time-consuming undertaking. As it stands right now, most of our visitors come from the north and arrive on the Outer Banks via the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge that exits at Kitty Hawk.

About a mile past the bridge there is an intersection that leads north to Southern Shores, Duck and Corolla or south to the main towns of the Outer Banks or Hatteras Island. The intersection is inadequate to handle the volume of summer traffic and consequently, traffic regularly backs up to the mainland.

To alleviate traffic at the intersection a bridge spanning Currituck Sound has been seen as the best solution for a number of year. First envisioned in 1978 as part of a planning exercise for the UNC School of Government, the Mid-Currituck Bridge has had to fight for its life since it first became part of North Carolina Department of Transportation plans.

Current Status of the Project

The Mid-Currituck Bridge is included in current North Carolina Department of Transportation plans; however, the start date has been moved back. As recently as 2016, the construction schedule had the bridge completed in 2022. Although still on the books, it is difficult to know when the bridge is scheduled to be completed.

There is an extensive permitting process that is involved in moving any project like the Mid-Currituck Bridge forward, and the most daunting task had been completed in January of 2012 when a Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued. The next step would have been issuing a Record of Decision, but a change in the political makeup of the state legislature created a change in how North Carolina Department of Transportation evaluated projects and the Record of Decision was never issued.

Because of the delay, the Environmental Impact Statement will have to be re-evaluated and how extensive the re-evaluation process is may determine the schedule.

When the bridge was re-included as part of the state’s transportation improvement plan in 2015, a new schedule of completion of the project was issued that had a date of 2022. That date was contingent on a Record of Decision being issued in the spring of this year.

That did not happen and the new Record of Decision date is spring of 2018.

It is unclear how much of an effect that will have on the overall schedule. Typically contracts are not let until the Record of Decision is issued; it is possible contracts could be awarded more quickly than usual in which case the delay would be minimal.

At this point the North Carolina Department of Transportation website lists the opening date as to be determined.

Possible Impacts

North Carolina Department of Transportation projections for traffic growth on the Outer Banks point to the necessity of building the bridge. If and when the bridge is finally built, provided the projections are accurate, the impact on traffic will be dramatic.

At this point in time, people living on the southern Currituck mainland repeatedly express frustration with being trapped in their homes on summer weekends. The bridge should remedy that. Additionally traffic that slows to a crawl through Duck and Southern Shores should move mover efficiently.

The Mid-Currituck Bridge, though, enjoys widespread regional support, not just a vote of confidence from Dare and Currituck County officials.

For the counties that makeup Northeastern North Carolina the Mid-Currituck Bridge represents employment opportunities for their residents. Unemployment rates in neighboring counties tend to be higher than the beach communities and with quicker access to Corolla, the belief is jobs would be available.

Employers in the Corolla area would also like to see the bridge completed. Because there are relatively few year round residents in the area, finding employees to fill summer needs has been a consistent problem and like the neighboring county officials, the bridge is seen as a way to relieve employee shortfalls.

If the bridge is built, it’s difficult to predict what the effect on real estate and business will be. The preferred alternative will connect Aydlett with Corolla, landing in the Outer Banks between Timbuck II and the Whalehead Club.

On the Outer Banks side, the impact will probably be minimal; buildout is continuing regardless of what happens with the bridge.

On the Currituck mainland side, it may be a different story.

There is very little commercial development in the area that will be the corridor for the bridge—at this point it’s farmland and swamp. The swamp is Maple Swamp and is protected wetlands, so there will be no building there, but there may be opportunity in the areas that will allow construction.

Will It Be Built?

That is an interesting question.

The short answer is probably but there are some significant hurdles to cross.

There are still question about how the project will be funded. Plans call for a Private Public Partnership, with financing that will be paid for by tolls. The total cost of the project is approximately $500 million, although that may go up if the delays continue.

Questions have been raised asking if the tolls will be adequate to satisfy repayment of the debt and maintain the bridge.

There is almost certainly going to be a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has been on record as opposing the project for some time. They have raised concerns about environmental damage and continuing buildout of the Currituck Banks. The organization has presented an alternative plan that would include flyovers at the troublesome intersection and other road improvements.

The plan is similar, although not identical to, one of the alternatives rejected by North Carolina Department of Transportation.

If the Southern Environmental Law Center does sue to stop the project, they will do so after the Record of Decision is issued, since the project is not officially on the books until that time.

The Mid-Currituck Bridge: Will It Happen?

Anyone who has ever lived or visited the Outer Banks has heard about the Mid-Currituck Bridge. Opinions vary depending on whom you talk with at the time. Some swear that the bridge will be built and still others claim that it is never going to happen.  The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.  Let’s take a second to separate the facts from opinions.

The plan to build a bridge that connects Corolla to the mainland has been around since the 1970’s. The bridge would greatly relieve traffic congestion on NC 12 though Duck and Southern Shores and cut an hour off of trips to Corolla. On January 19, 2012, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released by the N.C. Turnpike Authority. It recommended the construction of the bridge as well as limited improvements to existing NC 12 and Us 158.  This project was slated to begin in late 2012. In June 2012 the NCDOT recommended not to fund the project.

This debate has gone back and forth from the very beginning. The opponents have cited costs as being the biggest obstacle with the bridge costing between 500-600 million to be built. There are many opinions that the funding allocated for this bridge should be used for the Oregon Inlet Bridge since many feel the Oregon Inlet Bridge is a hazard for everyone who crosses it. The question of funding has always put a damper in this project.

According to Jeff Hampton , “[As of December 2015,] the mid-Currituck bridge connecting the mainland to Corolla, N.C., is back on track”.  Kip Tabb writes, “With each hurdle that is passed, the Mid-Currituck bridge edges closer to realty”.  The feelings from many are positive that a toll bridge will eventually be constructed.  I can’t help but think that maybe some of these thoughts are more wishful thinking, but I agree and support that the bridge would supply jobs and stimulate our economy.

There are other issues that could impact the bridge being build. I’ve seen more and more closures of our beaches in recent years due to environmental activism. This same group may align itself with another species that is not in trouble to serve it own agendas to control our environment.

The question to whether the bridge will be built or not has many variables that aren’t easily answered.  Funding and environmental impact are its biggest opponent. Still most wish to dream of a time when they didn’t sit in traffic on Saturdays and early check in’s were available at every house. Whether fact or opinion, the hope for the Mid-Currituck Bridge lives on for locals and tourists alike. To build or not to build, that is the question.

mid-currituck bridgeFor more insights about the Outer Banks and surrounding area please feel free to contact Ken or Pete with Best Buy OBX of Outer Banks Blue.

Ken Baittinger
Ken (252) 305-5255
ken@outerbanksblue.com

or

Pete Salitore
Pete (252) 202-4868
pete@outerbanksblue.com