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Energy & Environment

Judge Lets Rodanthe Bridge Project Proceed

Construction begins this summer on the Rodanthe Bridge, a 2-4 mile span that goes into Pamlico Sound to avoid Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Construction begins this summer on the Rodanthe Bridge, a 2-4 mile span that goes into Pamlico Sound to avoid Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

A federal judge's order this week lets construction go ahead on a project designed to solve frequent storm damage on part of NC 12 at North Carolina's Outer Banks. It's an elevated roadway that takes the road off Hatteras Island and into Pamlico Sound, north of Rodanthe. 

Major storms like Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 often wash out Route 12, especially through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The planned $145 million Rodanthe Bridge will shift the road away from the refuge in a shape described as a "jughandle." NCDOT says it will protect the environment and increase reliability of the road.

In February, a group of Outer Banks residents sued to stop construction, under the banner Save Our Sound OBX. They argued that state and federal highway officials failed to consider alternatives and potential environmental damage. The residents also said it would destroy a popular windsurfing area. They wanted officials to rebuild the road and use beach renourishment when needed.

But on Monday, federal judge Louise Flanagan ruled against the residents. That clears the way for construction to begin this summer.

The Rodanthe Bridge is part of a larger Outer Banks highway project that includes the $245 million replacement of the Bonner Bridge, over Oregon Inlet.  Environmental groups previously sued to halt that project. The Rodanthe Bridge and a second planned elevated section of Route 12 were part of a compromise that settled the earlier suit.

NCDOT spokesman Tim Haas welcomed the ruling.

“Construction is set to begin this summer and we're very pleased by the court decision because it does allow us to proceed with this important project,” Haas said.

Two environmental groups had joined the suit to defend the bridge project – Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.  The two groups had brought the earlier suit over the Bonner Bridge project and had agreed to the Rodanthe Bridge project. They were represented in the case by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

SELC lawyer Kym Hunter said in a statement that the dismissal of the residents’ suit clears the way for the compromise, which was an agreement “to adapt to sea level rise and more frequent storms, and preserve natural resources while keeping traffic flowing safely and smoothly.  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.”


Save Our Sound OBX web page, http://www.sos-obx.org/

NCDOT web page on the Rodanthe Bridge project, https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/NC12Rodanthe/

Southern Environmental Law Center statement on the Rodanthe Bridge ruling.