A federal judge has ruled in favor of the N.C. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration over a lawsuit filed by conservation groups and a local organization opposed to a bridge over the Currituck Sound between Corolla and the mainland.
But there is still a long ways to go before the first piling can be driven for the toll facility that would span seven miles of open water and swampland between Aydlett and Corolla.
N.C. Turnpike Authority officials, which oversee all toll projects in the state, have said as recently as May that it would likely be 2023 before any work could begin.
The Mid-Currituck Bridge and a number of other expensive major highway construction projects in North Carolina were among the first to be delayed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, due primarily to the impact on the amount of money coming into state coffers due to the drop in gas tax revenue.
The Southern Environmental Law Center represented the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and NOMCB/Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge, in the lawsuit filed in April 2019 challenging the highway departments’ environmental analysis and decision document.
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 this winter 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.
While public statements by the plaintiffs claimed the cost will be above $500 million, and the lawsuit said $600 million when it was filed more than two years ago. A N.C. Turnpike Authority officials said last spring they still estimate the cost to come in under $500 million.
NCDOT Division Engineer Sterling Baker said in a letter sent Thursday to state and local leaders that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina decided in favor of NCDOT and Federal Highway Administration.
“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.”
The letter did not specify which judge issued the ruling, and there is no word yet from the plaintiffs on a possible appeal.
We’ll have more on this developing story, including comment from local and state leaders and the plaintiffs, so stay with OBX Today for updates.