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Bridge 'record of decision' nearing release

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By Sandy Semans Ross
Correspondent

Sunday, February 10, 2019

CURRITUCK — State officials are predicting it will be several months before the “Record of Decision” finalizing details of the long-delayed Mid-Currituck Bridge project is released.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority, the agency that will oversee construction of the 7-mile toll bridge spanning the Currituck Sound, is currently waiting both the record of decision on the project and a re-evaluation of its environmental impact statement, Rodger Rochelle, the agency’s chief engineer, said last week.     

The project’s current EIS was prepared more than three years ago, so federal and state agencies are having to review it to make certain it still complies with mandates laid out in the National Environmental Policy Act.

The bridge project includes a two-lane bridge that will span Currituck Sound and connect the Currituck County mainland to the Outer Banks. It also will include a second two-lane bridge spanning Maple Swamp on the mainland, connecting Aydlett to U.S. Highway 158.

The design and construction cost of the bridges is estimated to be $440 million. However, with the cost of preplanning other items such as the EIS re-evaluation, the bridge’s price tag has climbed to $489 million. Part of the cost is expected to be paid with bonds that will be repaid through tolls collected on the bridges. Federal funds also will help defray some of the span’s costs, while the state is expected to shell out about $178 million for the project.

No estimate for the cost of the tolls has been announced.

For more than three decades, residents and elected officials from both Currituck and Dare counties have lobbied for the bridge’s construction. After several missteps, funding issues and legal wrangling, the project was placed under the Turnpike Authority’s purview. The agency, which was created in 2007, has worked on planning for the bridge for the past decade.

The project received a large boost with adoption of a new road and bridge project prioritization process in 2014-15, Rochelle said. That new process moved the bridge up toward the top of the list of to-do projects, and now that a major project in Raleigh is wrapping up, the Currituck bridge is a priority, he said.

Release of the record of decision — the document spelling out what the bridge’s environmental impacts will be, when it’s construction will start, and how it will be paid for — has been delayed a number of times.

In 2017, a state highway official predicted the record of decision would be released in April 2018. That date came and went, however, and succeeded with an expected release in November 2018. 

Carly Olexik, a spokeswoman Turnpike Authority, said the agency now expects to receive the Record of Decision within the first two quarters of this year.

After the elusive record is released, the Turnpike Authority will announce the qualifications it’s seeking in both prime contractors and subcontractors to build the bridge. The authority will then create a shortlist of teams to work on producing design-build bids for the project.

Rochelle estimated the timeframe between when the record of decision is released, the project being awarded to contractors, and actual work taking place at about six months. Part of the work needed before construction starts will be obtaining the needed permits and approval of the project’s design.

Olexik said it’s possible that construction of the bridge could begin in 2020 and be complete by 2024.

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