Local Groups Vow to Continue Fight Against Wasteful, Unnecessary Mid-Currituck Bridge Proposal
Extremely high tolls still would not cover costs; sea-level rise threats continue to increase
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A proposed $602 million toll bridge remains unfunded and lacking necessary approvals from state and federal agencies today, after an appeals court upheld an environmental review that failed to account for significant changes—including rising sea level forecasts that would cut off access—since the project was last publicly reviewed over ten years ago. Despite the court’s ruling, the review is so out of date that federal regulations require it to be revisited again before the project can proceed.
On behalf of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and local residents from the Currituck mainland and northern Outer Banks, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed an appeal last year asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to cure serious defects in an environmental analysis. The defective analysis ignored hundreds of acres of new development that would be caused by a new bridge to the roadless areas of the Outer Banks and failed to account for rising sea level projections, decreased traffic forecasts, increased bridge costs, and reduced costs for less harmful alternatives. The court upheld the analysis on the basis that federal law permits “unwise” action, so long as it is mostly informed. And indeed, the project remains unwise and infeasible. It currently lacks needed permits from at least five state and federal agencies and does not qualify for needed sources of funding under the state’s cost-benefit analysis, meaning that even the high proposed tolls on drivers each way would not cover its projected cost.
“North Carolina has many unmet transportation needs along its coast, but the Mid-Currituck Bridge is not one of them.” said Kym Meyer, senior attorney. “We will continue to work to ensure that North Carolina money is not wasted on this costly, unwise project. There are much more affordable solutions to ease traffic in this area of the Outer Banks, and those solutions can be put in place much more swiftly, and with less damage to the Currituck Sound.”
The North Carolina Outer Banks is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, intense storms, and regular flooding. Significant investments will be needed to conserve coastal resources and protect communities in the face of a changing climate caused by carbon pollution from over reliance on fossil fuels. The Southern Environmental Law Center is part of the NC 12 Task Force that recently recommended solutions for rapidly eroding spots all along the NC 12 highway from Pea Island to Ocracoke, including moving a 7-mile stretch of NC 12 into the protected waters of Pamlico Sound to high erosion areas that frequently cut off access on Hatteras Island. Shifting funds away from the Mid-Currituck Bridge proposal to these more pressing needs could make the state eligible to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars of additional funding for resilience projects passed by Congress last year.
The Southern Environmental Law Center recently informed the State Treasurer and State Auditor that the N.C. Turnpike Authority has continued to push the project despite the mounting evidence that it is not needed and better, cheaper alternatives are available; the Turnpike Authority has spent nearly $40 million on consultants and studies for the project since it was first proposed, but still has no viable plan to serve the local community’s needs.