Passions run deep on mid-Currituck bridge plan

By on May 19, 2010

An information open house preceded the hearing.

A public hearing Tuesday night drew a small but passionate sampling of the pros and cons of a mid-Currituck County bridge.

From the Aydlett resident who feared losing a way of life to the local leaders who said it was past time to build the bridge, about a dozen speakers offered their views at the first of three hearings on the project.

More than 60 people attended the session at the Ramada Plaza in Kill Devil Hills.

The hearings are required as part of the process of studying the bridge, an idea that dates back to the 1980s. Its stated purpose is to relieve massive backups at the Wright Memorial Bridge, ease hurricane evacuations and cut the driving time to the Currituck Outer Banks.

Before the hearing, an information open house with an array of maps and officials available to explain them provided details on five alternatives in a draft environmental impact statement.

Although the hearing room was nearly full, only eight people had signed up to speak, and one of them left before making a statement. After they were finished, seven more volunteered their opinions.

Yvonne Avery, who lives in Aydlett, noted that the North Carolina Turnpike Authority had assured property owners and businesses that they would be made whole with fair compensation if the bridge displaced them. The small mainland community with expansive views of the Currituck Sound would be at the western terminus of the bridge.

“When you change a community’s way of life, how can you make that whole again?” she asked.

But political and business leaders from Duck and Southern Shores said traffic has been affecting their communities for years. Because the Wright Memorial Bridge is the only way across the sound, vacationers heading to Corolla have to cross there, then head north along N.C. 12 through the two towns.

Mayor Hal Denny said Southern Shores has “long been the victim of weekend traffic jams.”

Denny and Mayor Pro Tem Don Kingston of Duck both voiced strong support for the turnpike authority’s recommended alternative, which calls for building the bridge and not widening N.C. 12 except for a short stretch near the eastern terminus north of the Currituck Club in Corolla.

Variations of that alternative will cost in the range of $600 million and and $816 million. Tolls have not been determined, but they would be from $6 to $12. Construction could start as soon as early next year, and the bridge could be open to traffic by late 2014.

Several speakers voiced concerns about what they saw as the potential negative effects of the 5-mile bridge on the Currituck Outer Banks.

Andrew and Michael Meredith, the owners of Corolla Watersports near Timbuck II said the bridge would spoil what makes the area attractive: its remoteness.

“It’s so desirable because it’s so hard to get to,” Andrew Meredith Jr. said.

Michael Meredith said that one of two options for the eastern terminus could block his business’ access to the sound. He asked the turnpike authority to consider that impact or choose the second alternative, which is farther north near Corolla Bay.

Other speakers warned of overdevelopment, higher crime and dangers to children who might have to cross the four-lane stretch of N.C. 12 near the bridge. At least one suggested that the state put more of its efforts into building a replacement for the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.

Wally Davis of Aydlett asked for a show of hands of the people who had read the entire draft environmental statement. After a few responded, he contended that some of the information seemed tailored to supporting the bridge option rather than alternatives that include widening U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 rather than building the span.

“The problem is mostly in Dare County,” he said.

But Gene Gregory, a Currituck County commissioner, said the traffic problems affect mainland businesses, some of which choose to shut down on weekends, and force duplication of police protection. With a bridge, Currituck sheriff’s deputies could get to Corolla in 10 minutes, he said.

“We desperately need this bridge,” he said.

Hearings at 7 p.m. will be preceded by information sessions from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Currituck Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla today and at the Currituck County Center in Barco on Thursday.

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