- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A legal settlement is clearing the way for work to replace the crumbling bridge connecting the Outer Banks as early as next spring, as well as two new bridges on Hatteras Island over precarious areas where the main road is frequently washed out, North Carolina officials said Tuesday.

The word comes after environmental groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center dropped a lawsuit last week blocking North Carolina from replacing the 52-year-old bridge that was designed to last for 30 years. A legal settlement wrapping up the case was reached in June.

The deal calls for a new span over Oregon Inlet parallel to the existing Bonner Bridge, the only link to the mainland from Hatteras Island. Past estimates have put the price tag for the 2.8-mile bridge at about $215 million, but years of delays would raise the price tag. The total extra cost was not yet clear, DOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said Tuesday.

The state also will build a half-mile bridge over an unnamed inlet carved through the island by a 2011 hurricane. The bridge for North Carolina Highway 12 over the now-largely filled inlet through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is expected to cost about $28 million, Charbonneau said. Work on this bridge could start before the end of the year, state officials said. The DOT is scrapping a $79 million contract to build a longer, permanent bridge, according to terms of the legal settlement.

A third, 2.5-mile-long bridge will sweep over the Pamlico Sound to avoid a precarious section of Highway 12 known locally as the “S-curves.” That’s expected to cost between $179 million and $198 million.

It was a year ago that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the state’s plan to replace the Bonner Bridge without rerouting N.C. 12 away from the wildlife refuge.

Environmental opponents argued the state’s replacement plan left out the cost of moving or maintaining about 12 miles of N.C. 12 through the wildlife refuge. Environmentalists said the Bonner Bridge replacement would be useless without additional road and bridge construction.

The environmental groups had wanted a 17-mile route around the wildlife refuge to connect the town of Rodanthe and other communities on Hatteras Island. That bridge would have been the second-longest bridge in the United States and state officials said it would cost more than $1 billion.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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