The Bonner Bridge Replacement: Long Bridge Is The Safest, Most Reliable, Least Expensive Option In The Long Run

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(8/04/2006) - MEMO  

TO: North Carolina Editorial Page Editors, Columnists and Reporters
FR: Defenders of Wildlife
DT: August 4, 2006
RE: The Bonner Bridge Replacement: Long Bridge Is The Safest, Most Reliable, Least Expensive Option In The Long Run

It's time for North Carolina to replace the aging bridge connecting Bodie and Hatteras Islands in the Outer Banks. There are several options on the table for accomplishing this, but local refuge and transportation planning officials have clearly stated that a long bridge that bypasses the sensitive Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is the best option because it is safer, more reliable, more cost-effective and environmentally sound.

The long bridge is safer and more reliable because NC 12 − the main thoroughfare running through the refuge and across the current bridge -- is built on a rapidly eroding shoreline. As such the road needs continuous upkeep to battle erosion and overwash from storms. This approach often leaves residents and tourists with no or limited access via NC 12, posing a real threat to their safety in the event of a hurricane evacuation. A long bridge wouldn't be closed or washed out by storms and would avoid the problems caused by a rapidly receding shoreline. A long bridge would therefore be a safer more reliable evacuation route during storms and hurricanes. .

Further illustrating this point is a safety report issued June 2006, by the firm of Parsons, Brinckenoff, Quade, and Douglas entitled "NC-12 Replacement of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, Long Bridge Operations and Safety Study Report." The report debunks the two biggest safety issues of long bridges put forth by the opposition: accidents and wind. In fact, the report finds there are comparatively few accidents on long bridges and that getting emergency vehicles to those locations has rarely been a problem. The report also says that long bridges are safer than average roads, primarily because there are no intersections and crossing traffic patterns. And finally, the report found that complete closure of long bridges does not begin until gale force wind speed is achieved, which is also when travel on any roads are restricted by authorities. Moreover, the stated goal of Dare County is to complete the evacuation process before winds of this speed arrive.

The long bridge is more cost-effective because it would require much less annual maintenance and would not be closed down every season because of storm over wash, as would NC 12. While the upfront cost of the long bridge is higher than replacing the existing short bridge, the maintenance cost savings make it the smart choice economically in the long term.

In Sum:

Estimated Cost of Longer bridge - $425,000,000 (NCDOT draft cost estimate from April)
Estimated cost of shorter bridge with NC-12 beach maintenance costs
$ 683,000,000 (NCDOT, which cut in half the project life when faced with the NCSU estimate below)
Estimated cost of shorter bridge with NC-12 beach nourishment $1,121,000,000 (Original NCSU estimate)

In reality, the costs of maintaining NC 12 for decades to come will require hundreds of millions of dollars more in removing over-washed sand, repairing pavement, and spanning so called "hotspots" with additional bridges.

The long bridge is more environmentally sound because it would completely bypass the refuge, an important nesting site for sea turtles, piping plovers and other shore birds. The long bridge would consume only four acres of wetlands whereas the short bridge alternative and the re-alignment of NC 12 necessitated by this option would destroy over seventy-eight acres of wetlands. Indeed, because relocating the road would have such severe impacts on the refuge, it cannot legally be authorized. H. Dale Hall, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, testified to Congress two weeks ago: "There is no way we could legally find moving the road compatible (with the refuge’s purpose)."

Opponents have also said that construction of a long bridge will cut off access to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge for tourists, birders, fishermen and surfers. Not true. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to providing access to the refuge and has gone on record pledging as much.

The bottom line is that the long bridge alternative was deemed not only a reasonable alternative, but the preferred option by 13 state and federal agencies including the NC Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration just a year and a half ago. In fact, in a June 2003 letter to the Chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, the Secretary of NCDOT Lyndo Tippett described the short bridge as "no longer viable due to recent trends in shoreline erosion, ocean overwash of NC 12, and other changes in the setting of the project." And with official approval all but done, construction on the long bridge was slated to begin August 2006 -- that is, until local officials began to work to scuttle the plan.

The long bridge is the safest, most reliable, most economically and environmentally sound option for the state of North Carolina. Construction should begin right away. 

Read more at http://www.defenders.org/peaisland/.

For more information, contact:
William Lutz, Defenders of Wildlife: 202.772.0269

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Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.

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Contact(s):

William Lutz, (202) 772-0269

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