Local residents, hunters, and fishermen take NCDOT to court over controversial bridge to OBX

The Currituck Sound is defined by its vast wetlands, which provide important habitats and help buffer the coast from storms and flooding. (© Bill Sublette)

A bridge proposed in the Outer Banks by North Carolina officials has drawn such backlash that today SELC filed suit on behalf of frustrated locals. Area residents from the Currituck mainland and the northern Outer Banks, along with hunters, fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, joined the lawsuit against the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration challenging their approval of the controversial $500 million Mid-Currituck Bridge. SELC represents the groups in their legal challenge.

The $500 million proposed bridge would stretch from Aydlett on the Currituck mainland across the environmentally sensitive Currituck Sound to Corolla on the Outer Banks. The bridge would lead to growth in undisturbed areas along the Northern Outer Banks, along with increased pollution, thus harming important wildlife habitat in the area and destroying natural processes that would otherwise help the coast adapt to flooding, storm surge, and rising sea levels. It would cause significant damage to the Currituck Sound, and its pricey tolls, necessary to cover its high costs—by some estimates up to $50 during peak summer months—render the project only usable by wealthy tourists during their visits a few months each year during the summer season.  

“It is unfortunate that Governor Cooper’s NCDOT continues to press forward with this wasteful, destructive bridge” said SELC Senior Attorney Kym Hunter, who is representing the groups. “It’s hard to square the governor’s executive order on climate change with this bridge that will encourage more development in a part of North Carolina vulnerable to rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Our state would be better served directing those resources to road improvements needed to improve resiliency in Eastern North Carolina.”

The groups filed their lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Among their claims, they argue that the transportation agencies have failed to consider less damaging and less expensive alternatives including a multi-faceted transportation solution for the Northern Outer Banks previously suggested by the groups. This significantly less expensive proposal includes minimal road widening along key congested stretches of NC 12, a redesigned interchange between NC 12 and 158, and the conversion of signalized intersections to roundabouts, as well as programs designed to reduce transportation demand, such as incentives for staggered check-out days at vacation rental homes.

$500 million is just too much to spend on vacation traffic when there are so many other needed transportation projects in coastal North Carolina, and so many alternative solutions to deal with the traffic.”

—Jen Symonds, Founder of No MCB

The alternative solution was designed to ease peak congestion days, which occur primarily on summer weekends, at drastically less cost to taxpayers and the environment than the proposed bridge. This approach also could be implemented much sooner than the proposed bridge.

“The proposed bridge would only really be used for 13 weekends a year during peak vacation time,” said No MCB co-founder Jen Symonds. “$500 million is just too much to spend on vacation traffic when there are so many other needed transportation projects in coastal North Carolina, and so many alternative solutions to deal with the traffic.”  

The groups also claim that NCDOT has illegally shut the public out of the decision-making process. There has been no public analysis of the bridge and no opportunity for the public to weigh in on options since 2012. Despite the significant changes and new information that has come to light in the intervening years, NCDOT has chosen to avoid a public process and has instead engaged in closed door decision-making.

“We are disappointed that NCDOT is pushing forward with this project,” noted Tim Gestwicki with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “This unnecessary bridge would devastate one of the most important areas for migratory wildfowl impairing the ability of hunters and anglers to enjoy this unique area.”

NoMCB and SELC will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. at the Corolla Library in Corolla on May 2, 2019 to discuss the lawsuit.

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