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Appeals court says Outer Banks bridge project can proceed

The proposed $500 million Mid-Currituck Bridge would link the mainland with the Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk.
The proposed $500 million Mid-Currituck Bridge would link the mainland with the Outer Banks near Corolla.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the state can proceed with a $500 million bridge between the mainland and North Carolina's Outer Banks, despite the objections of environmental and citizens' groups.

The proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge would run seven miles across Currituck Sound between the Maple Swamp on the mainland and the town of Corolla, on the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks are a popular tourist destination and local officials have said traffic is a growing problem. The North Carolina Department of Transportation says the bridge would ease tourist season traffic by offering a second route over Currituck Sound in addition to the Wright Memorial Bridge at Kitty Hawk. It would also help during storm evacuations.

On Thursday, the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled against the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and residents who sued to block the bridge. They had argued that the bridge is not needed and that the original NCDOT approval was based on an outdated environmental review. They say the bridge area eventually will be underwater because of sea-level rise and storm-related flooding.

"We're disappointed in the court's ruling. But we are committed to continuing to ensure that this wasteful project does not move forward," said Kym Meyer, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented the wildlife federation and citizens' groups.

NCDOT still needs funding and approvals for the project and has not set a start date. The state's current plan is to pay for the bridge with tolls, bonds and state and federal funds.

In a statement Thursday, the DOT welcomed the ruling: "The North Carolina Department of Transportation and Turnpike Authority are committed to delivering projects on behalf of the local communities that request them. We are pleased the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration complied with federal laws and regulations. Over the coming weeks, the project team will evaluate the schedule and next steps."

Meyer said bridge opponents will continue to fight the project as it comes up for additional reviews.

"The bridge does not have any necessary federal or state approvals and as far as we know, does not have and has never had a financial path forward. So we will continue to advocate that the public is fully engaged in that decision-making process and that North Carolina uses its resources wisely," Meyer said.

Besides the wildlife federation, opponents include No Mid-Currituck Bridge - Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge. The original lawsuit named the NCDOT and Federal Highway Administration as defendants.

The project has the support of many local officials. Last year, the Town of Southern Shores filed a friend of the court brief in support of the bridge. It was joined by the Town of Duck, Currituck County, the Dare County Tourism Board, Duck Community and Business Alliance and the Currituck Chamber of Commerce.


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Updated: February 23, 2023 at 3:57 PM EST
This story has been updated to include a comment from NCDOT.
David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.