A federal appeals court has scheduled oral arguments for December on a lawsuit seeking to block a long-planned toll bridge over the Currituck Sound that would run between the mainland and Corolla.
According to an email from the Town of Southern Shores, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond will hold a hearing the week of December 6, with a final date and time for the arguments to be set once any scheduling conflicts with legal counsel on both sides.
Following the oral arguments, the appellate panel will issue a written decision which could take several months to be finalized and released.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and No Mid-Currituck Bridge/Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge, filed an appeal in January to declare invalid what they call the “illegal and outdated” analysis prepared for the Mid-Currituck Bridge.
Judge Louise Wood Flanagan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued a 50-page ruling in December 2021, affirming the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration had complied with all federal and state environmental regulations in its plans to construct the bridge.
The towns of Southern Shores and Duck, Currituck County, Dare County Tourism Board, Duck Community and Business Alliance and the Currituck Chamber of Commerce filed an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) Brief in June.
In addition to the appellees, the effort to get the bridge built have been formally supported by strong resolutions in support passed by local governments and business organizations, including Dare County, Chowan County, Perquimans County, Camden County, Pasquotank County, Town of Kills Devil Hills, Town of Nags Head, Town of Kitty Hawk, the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization, the Outer Banks Association of Realtors, and the Outer Banks Homebuilders Association.
“The Mid-Currituck Bridge is vital to improving the quality of life for our residents and visitors”, Southern Shores Mayor Elizabeth Morey said when the brief was filed this summer. “We feel as though this Amicus Brief will help strengthen and further acknowledge the efforts of the Town to finally see the bridge built.”
More from the Southern Shores press release:
“Due to development on the northern beaches, the Town of Southern Shores has experienced a tremendous increase in the amount of traffic on its residential streets as summer vacationers attempt to take short cuts to Duck and Corolla. Summer traffic creates long backs up and congestion on internal streets making it extremely difficult for residents to leave their driveways, as well as reducing the response time of emergency services. In addition, because Southern Shores residential streets are maintained by the town, the additional wear and tear by thousands of vehicles every summer weekend creates a financial burden for the town. The Mid-Currituck Bridge will provide much-needed relief on Southern Shores streets by providing a second means of access to the northern Outer Banks and will also provide a much-needed evacuation route during storm events.”
State Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck) told Currituck commissioners in January that construction will start in 2023, adding that the state’s Turnpike Authority is once again moving forward with property acquisition and other actions needed before construction can start.
The toll facility would cross seven miles of open water and swampland between Aydlett and Corolla, linking U.S. 158 and N.C. 12. N.C. Turnpike Authority officials, which oversee all toll projects in the state, have said as recently as May 2021 that it would likely be 2023 before any work could begin.
The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in April 2019 under the National Environmental Policy Act, arguing state and federal transportation agencies have failed to consider less damaging and less expensive alternatives.
Those include widening N.C. 12 through Southern Shores and Duck to three lanes, traffic circles instead of stop lights, and building a flyover interchange with U.S. 158 in Kitty Hawk.
The suit claimed there had been no public input on the proposal since 2012, that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the project in 2018 was based on data that is more than seven years old, and that tolls would have to top $50 during peak season to pay for the project.
In a statement issued when the appeal was filed, the Southern Environmental Law Center said the North Carolina coastline is “extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, intense storms, and regular flooding” and that other locations on the Outer Banks are in need of more attention.
“Significant investments will be needed to conserve coastal resources and protect communities in the face of a changing climate. The Southern Environmental Law Center is part of the NC 12 Task Force that is researching solutions for rapidly eroding spots all along the NC 12 highway from Pea Island to Ocracoke. With limited funds available, construction of a new $500M bridge would means less available funds to address other needs.”
The groups previously argued that the agencies violated the law by failing to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement that considers up-to-date climate data and development trends.
They also argued that the agencies failed to assess the environmental impacts associated with increased development that the bridge will cause, and failed to consider less damaging and less expensive alternatives, including a multi-faceted transportation solution offered by the groups that would ease peak congestion days.