Currituck asked to help pay for span
“There’s certainly a level of frustration that has built up with the struggle of trying to get the project to advance.-”
Currituck County manager
By Cindy Beamon
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
CURRITUCK — State transportation officials apparently have suggested Currituck contribute county dollars to the Mid-Currituck Bridge project as a way of improving the span’s chances of receiving state funding under a new road-building formula.
But three county commissioners reached this week say the county has no plans to follow the advice.
County staff and commissioners met with high-ranking state Department of Transportation officials last week to see how to boost the project’s chances for funding. After the bridge was de-funded last year by state lawmakers, the project now has to compete with other road projects for funding.
DOT officials suggested the county could contribute local dollars to improve the bridge’s chances of getting built. The state’s Strategic Mobility Formula allows local governments to donate funds to better their projects’ scores and rankings with the state.
But county commissioners said the $50 million to $100 million DOT officials mentioned is too far-fetched to even consider.
“I would not put that burden on the people of Currituck County. That’s not a consideration as far as I’m concerned,” said Commissioner Paul Martin.
Commissioner Butch Petrey said the figure is outrageous considering the county’s entire general fund budget for the year is $46 million.
County Manager Dan Scanlon said he didn’t think the county could offer enough to benefit the Mid-Currituck Bridge project. Scanlon said the state officials offered no other new suggestions for making the project competitive.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul O’Neal said he attended the meeting to find out how to move the bridge project forward but did not get a definitive answer from DOT on how it can be done.
“We are asking them to look at everything, financing, design, everything from top to bottom,” said O’Neal.
As it stands now, the county will have to wait until January to find out how the mid-county bridge project scores with the new funding formula. The county can try again if officials want to try to improve the score.
County officials say they’ve been told repeatedly by state officials the bridge will fare well when it’s scored against other projects.
Commissioners remain skeptical, however, after being forced to re-start a project that once had a scheduled completion date of late 2014.
Even the project’s cost remains uncertain.
The DOT has estimated construction of the bridge, eyed as a toll road, will cost $460 million. But earlier estimates involving a private partner set the bridge’s cost at $600 million and higher.
O’Neal said the removal of $120 million in state funding once earmarked for the project isn’t included in DOT’s figures. He wonders where those extra funds will come from.
Scanlon said DOT will need to reconcile the difference between cost estimates at some point.
Commissioners said they learned at the meeting that cutting the bridge project’s costs will not be easy. Because the Currituck Sound is shallow, a barge with a crane to build the bridge will not work. Instead, a temporary bridge will have to be built before work begins on the actual seven-mile span connecting the Currituck mainland and the Outer Banks.
Cutting corners at the Aydlett landing won’t work either. DOT had considered lowering a raised road across swampland near the community, but environmental concerns have shut that door and added more dollars to the cost.
With all the uncertainty, one thing appears certain: DOT doesn’t have a backup plan for relieving traffic congestion on the N.C. Highway 168/U.S. Highway 158 corridor, county officials said. Simply widening the highway and N.C. Highway 12 in Corolla wouldn’t solve traffic backups and would cost more than a bridge, DOT officials have said.
Commissioners Petrey, O’Neal and Martin said last week’s meeting didn’t relieve their concerns about the bridge project’s future, although they were grateful to Board of Transportation member Malcolm Fearing for arranging the discussion.
“There’s certainly a level of frustration that has built up with the struggle of trying to get the project to advance,” said Scanlon.
Martin said commissioners’ focus will have to be on trying to keep the project moving forward.
“None of the answers made us happy, but they didn’t say ‘no,’ so we will keep trying,” he said.