War of words over Bonner Bridge, as state tries to fast track re - WNCN: News, Weather

War of words over Bonner Bridge, as state tries to fast track reopening

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Dare County's Bonner Bridge has been closed since Dec. 2. Dare County's Bonner Bridge has been closed since Dec. 2.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

A war of words continues over a critical roadway at North Carolina's coast. 

The state hopes to fast track the reopening of the Bonner Bridge. Inspectors could be on site as early as Wednesday to figure out whether it can open back up to traffic.

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata ordered it closed earlier this month amid safety concerns due to erosion. Since then, crews have worked to reinforce bridge pilings with extra sand.

This shut down has reignited the battle between environmental groups and the state over how to replace the bridge.

Secretary Tata raised eyebrows last week when he called The Southern Environmental Law Center, which has appealed a federal judge's ruling that construction on a new bridge can move forward, "Ivory Tower elitists that file these lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill," going on to say, "They do so with their lattes and their contempt."

The state wants to build a new 2.8 mile bridge, at a cost of about $216 million, and they want it done as soon as possible. Instead, SELC wants the state to build a longer, 17-mile bridge that would bypass the Oregon Inlet and much of Highway 12, which has washed out in some recent storms.  

The SELC told WUNC's "The State of Things" on Tuesday, the state will have to build shorter bridges eventually anyway.

"This is really a discussion about two bridges, that ultimately may be long bridges, one in the ocean, one in the sound," Derb Carter told WUNC's Frank Stasio. "Our view is that the cost would not be that different to go on and solve the problem now, and build a longer bridge."

Secretary Tata responded saying the so-called "long bridge" is too expensive and less environmentally sound.  

"This [the short bridge] is the least environmentally-damaging and practical alternative and so we are being good stewards of the environment," Tata said.

A 2012 estimate said the "long bridge" could be built for as little as $569 million. More current DOT estimates put that price between $800 million and $1.2 billion. It would also have to be built all at once. The DOT says they don't have a billion dollars to spend all at once.

NC DOT spokesperson Mike Charbonneau says bridge replacement now is critical as to not negatively impact summer tourism in future years.  A new bridge is not scheduled to open until 2016.

"When we can't get people to the Hatteras Island, it's not only a hardship for people who live there," Charbonneau said, "but it's a hardship on the economy of North Carolina."

An SELC spokesperson could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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