Federal judge dismisses lawsuit blocking new Rodanthe bridge

By on June 5, 2018

The bridge would swing out into the Pamlico Sound. (NCDOT)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of Hatteras Island property owners and residents in an effort to block the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to build a 2.4-mile-long bridge over the Pamlico Sound to bypass northern Rodanthe.

Save Our Sound OBX Inc. and six individual plaintiffs brought the action in February 2017 in U.S District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against the NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

The group said that instead of basing their choice on an objective analysis of the environmental impacts of the various alternatives, as required by state and federal law, officials unlawfully predetermined their selection of the “jug-handle” bridge pursuant to a backroom deal struck with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan issued a 46-page ruling that dismissed the claims.

“We are pleased by the court’s decision.  It allows us to proceed with a very important project.  N.C. 12 is a critical transportation facility for the Outer Banks and this allows us to get to work,” said NCDOT spokesperson Tim Hass.

“This result is an example of agencies collaborating to select the right approach, adapt to sea level rise and more frequent storms, and preserve natural resources while keeping traffic flowing safely and smoothly,” said Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center.

“It is essential that our state and local agencies plan for long-term transportation solutions that keep people safe and adapt to changing conditions such as the highly volatile environment that surrounds NC Highway 12,” Hunter said.

NCDOT rendering of bridge at end of Corbina Drive.

Estimates are that the 2.4-mile-long bridge will cost about $145 million. The plaintiffs in the suit countered their estimates place the cost closer to $198 million.

Mark Haines, a member of the group and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the News and Observer an appeal is possible.

“We don’t agree with the decision, and we’re considering options moving forward,” Haines said to the N&O.

The new bridge is seen as a long-term solution to keep N.C. 12 open through an area that is prone to severe storm damage, according to a highway department news release.

NCDOT officials have said as recently as this past April that construction of the new bridge was to start some time this year, even while the litigation was still pending.

Flatiron Constructors Inc., was awarded the design-build contract in January 2017, and has projected it will take between two and two-and-a-half years for construction.

Graphic from 2015 showing proposals for the future of N.C. 12 on Pea Island. (SELC)

SOS OBX said the proposed bridge would eliminate all road access through the southern end of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, as a first step toward an eventual goal of bypassing the refuge with traffic from Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe on a bridge through Pamlico Sound.

The Southern Environmental Law Center continues to support that approach and included a 2015 graphic in their press release Tuesday that shows the 17-mile-long concept as a future solution.

The proposed jug-handle bridge would remove the current N.C. 12 roadway from the foot of the new bridge at the refuge border to the northern edge of the Mirlo Beach neighborhood, where a cul-de-sac would be located.

The plaintiffs also contended that NCDOT and FHWA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws by using outdated information.

“(E)rosion projections from 2004 used in the analysis … have since been revised to indicate far less erosion than initially projected,” according to the press release from SOS OBX.

A nourishment project in 2015 widened the beach along the S-Turns section of N.C. 12 and off a portion of Mirlo Beach.

That sand held up until this past winter when repeated nor’easters flattened the dunes in the area and flooded the roadway.

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Leave it alone. Using a boat to get to certain parts of the island is the natural progression of barrier islands. These vain attempts to ignore geology are destroying the tranquil nature of the area. You cannot preserve a barrier island using bridges. The return on investment will never be there. It just burning money.


The Southern Environmental Law Center wants a bypass bridge that goes from Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe. They are bird people, not estuary people. Don’t be surprised when the long bridge goes in that the entire area North of Rodanthe to South of Oregon Inlet is closed to the public. Wouldn’t be surprised if the “bird people” were allowed access…So be careful what you wish for.

Chet Walters

@Carter If it weren’t for tourists, the sea would’ve bisected Hatteras island a long long time ago. Nobody would’ve cared to keep putting it back together….and unless you got back and forth by boat, you would not live there.

Carter McKay

Had the tourists not come this little piece of paradise would have remained unspoiled.


@Bud you hit the nail on the head. They only people bitching are non-resident who live a neighborhood that has been subsidized by the rest of us for the past 15+ years. Yes it sucks for them, but the harsh reality is that they are businesses operating under the guise of a 2nd home that is rented. I owned a home in that neighborhood until 2007 and I knew one of two things were going to happen: road moved further into the neighborhood or bridge installed. There was no way the state was going to keep maintaining that portion of… Read more »

Mike Gaskill

The best the southern environmental law firm is jump of any new bridge they want built. What a worthless moronic organization. They are nothing more than a tool used by the federal government for land grabs and tax credits. Ask me how I know ..


This bridge is the beginning of the end of access to Pea Island. What a shame. Also a milestone in the demise of Hatteras island.


No homes are affected from this future bridge, they are all rentals.
What is affected is access to Pea island, the best beaches on Hatteras. Access will be denied/cut-off. Their plan is to run tram tours on the beach. Disgusting


No one seems to be talking about losing access to this long stretch of national seashore. People will have no access except theoretically by long hike or kayak. What a loss except to only the most fit.


The Mid Currituck County Bridge is next!!!!


@Bob Theres a difference between a dredged channel and bridge piling Bob, and all that dripping is at least is diluted over water where as its concentrated an relies on rain on the land an yes eventually ends up in the water any way.
When the bridge is completed sea life returns to normal between the pilings, but dredging everthing dies in the path of the dredge every time its dredged !!! Get it now !!!!

Judy Ridenour

I Agree build it! Should have been done years ago! Look at the drive to key west! Let nature take its own course with the twisting and turning of the sand.

Arthur Pewty

Like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.


In the renderings fabricated by NCDOT, they have removed homes to make the bridge look less intrusive. If they needed to remove them in the renderings, they should have paid the owners for their homes. The bridge will be within a few yards of homes that have been removed from the picture. Access is important but NCDOT should be ashamed of how significantly they bend the truth.


The “New vision for NC12” image above and it’s “future connection” is clearly the end goal…why else would the environmentalists be in favor of the jug handle bridge? What I don’t understand is the disregard for harm to the environs of the sound. Up in Corolla, they want to dredge a tiny bit to enable ferries or something to land near the Whalehead club, but they can’t get a permit to do it due to disturbing submerged aquatic vegetation. And yet here it’s not a problem to disturb many miles of it? And then drip oil and gas and windshield… Read more »

Should’ve built the “long bridge” years ago! It would’ve cost a lot less and Hatteras/Ocracoke wouldn’t have had all of the messes and revenue losses they’ve had to endure through Irene and power outages, etc.

Michael wilburn

So this is 2018 we need progress this would be a great benefit the hateras island people the bypass would guarantee access al the time. With all the environmental studies from all the years past I think they have a good grip on what’s happening yes.we need to look at the future and make it benefit the community.


People you need to see the future and stop living in the past with the technology we have now and the environmental processes in place we need to work together and make the best decisions for the future.the bypass is a great expansion for the future of hateras island. After everything is done with the bridge and bypass you would have to do nothing for years and the impact would be very minimal people.


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