Plaintiffs file appeal of federal judge’s ruling on Mid-Currituck Bridge lawsuit

Rendering of the bridge on the mainland side of the Mid-Currituck Bridge. [NCDOT image]

The group representing a conservation organization and local opponents to the Mid-Currituck Bridge have appealed a federal judge’s ruling on their suit seeking to block construction of a span over Currituck Sound between Corolla and Aydlett.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and No Mid-Currituck Bridge/Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge, is asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to declare invalid what they call the “illegal and outdated” analysis prepared for the Mid-Currituck Bridge.

“The Mid-Currituck Bridge is an extraordinarily bad investment for North Carolina,” said Kym Hunter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The bridge would primarily serve out-of-state tourists and only for a few weekends in the summer.”

“When you factor in the limited use, the availability of cheaper and less damaging alternatives, and that much of the bridge project area will soon begin to flood and become less reliable due to sea level rise, it is hard to think of a worse way for North Carolina to spend scarce transportation funds,” Hunter said.

“We urge Governor Cooper to think again before making this big and costly mistake. In the meantime, we will continue to challenge the illegal analysis in court,” Hunter said.

Filed in April 2019, the lawsuit challenged the N.C. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration environmental analysis and decision document. NCDOT Division Engineer Sterling Baker said in a letter send in mid-December to state and local leaders that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina decided in favor of the defendants.

“The court ruled that NCDOT and FHWA complied with applicable federal laws and regulations,” Baker said. “The project team is evaluating the schedule and working on next steps to move forward.”

“Currituck County has supported the building of a Mid-Currituck Bridge for many years and nothing has changed from our viewpoint,” said Currituck Board of Commissioners chairman Mike Payment last month. “The county has expressed our support for the bridge to several administrations in Raleigh over the years and we continue to talk with our elected officials in the hope that this project will be completed.”

The Daily Advance reported last week State Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck) told Currituck commissioners at their retreat on January 27 that construction will start next year.

Hanig said the state’s Turnpike Authority is once again moving forward with property acquisition and other actions needed before construction can start.

The toll facility would cross seven miles of open water and swampland between Aydlett and Corolla, linking U.S. 158 and N.C. 12. N.C. Turnpike Authority officials, which oversee all toll projects in the state, have said as recently as last May that it would likely be 2023 before any work could begin.

The toll complex would connect with U.S. 158 south of the Knapp Bridge in Coinjock on the mainland side, and N.C. 12 in the Corolla Bay neighborhood. [NCDOT map]

The groups filed their lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act, arguing state and federal transportation agencies have failed to consider less damaging and less expensive alternatives.

Those include widening N.C. 12 through Southern Shores and Duck to three lanes, traffic circles instead of stop lights, and building a flyover interchange with U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk.

The suit claimed there had been no public input on the proposal since 2012, that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the project in 2018 was based on data that is more than seven years old, and that tolls would have to top $50 during peak season to pay for the project.

In a statement issued Monday, the Southern Environmental Law Center said the North Carolina coastline is “extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, intense storms, and regular flooding” and that other locations on the Outer Banks are in need of more attention.

Significant investments will be needed to conserve coastal resources and protect communities in the face of a changing climate. The Southern Environmental Law Center is part of the NC 12 Task Force that is researching solutions for rapidly eroding spots all along the NC 12 highway from Pea Island to Ocracoke. With limited funds available, construction of a new $500M bridge would means less available funds to address other needs.

In federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the groups previously argued that the agencies violated the law by failing to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement that considers up-to-date climate data and development trends.

They also argued that the agencies failed to assess the environmental impacts associated with increased development that the bridge will cause, and failed to consider less damaging and less expensive alternatives, including a multi-faceted transportation solution offered by the groups that would ease peak congestion days.

This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.