Federal appeals court rules Mid-Currituck Bridge can proceed

Federal appeals court rules Mid-Currituck Bridge can proceed

February 23rd, 2023

A federal appeals court has unanimously upheld a ruling that paves the way for construction of a long-planned toll bridge over the Currituck Sound that would run between the mainland and Corolla.

The decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued Thursday backs Judge Louise Wood Flanagan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruling in December 2021 that affirmed 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 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Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge, filed an appeal in January 2022 to declare invalid what they call the “illegal and outdated” analysis prepared for the Mid-Currituck Bridge.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 2022.

In addition to the appellees, the effort to get the bridge built have been formally supported by strongly-worded resolutions 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 town is extremely excited to share that the Fourth Circuit issued its opinion in this case today which affirmed and upheld the decision from Judge Flanagan,” said Southern Shores Town Manager Cliff Ogburn.

“The court essentially embraced the analysis, findings, and conclusions of Judge Flanagan,” Ogburn said. “The Court of Appeals basically found that the transportation agencies did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act in approving the bridge project.”

“This decision overcomes a huge hurdle and allows planning, design and permitting work to resume,” Ogburn said.

“This is great news for Currituck and Corolla. This bridge will provide an important connection between the mainland and Corolla, and will help us unite our county,” said Currituck County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob White.

A statement from the Southern Environmental Law Center said local groups vow to continue to fight against construction of the bridge, but did not say if that includes filing an appeal with the United States Supreme Court.

“North Carolina has many unmet transportation needs along its coast, but the Mid-Currituck Bridge is not one of them.” said Kym Meyer, senior attorney for the plaintiffs.

“We will continue to work to ensure that North Carolina money is not wasted on this costly, unwise project,” Meyer said. “There are much more affordable solutions to ease traffic in this area of the Outer Banks, and those solutions can be put in place much more swiftly, and with less damage to the Currituck Sound.”

SELC also said they are concerned the Mid-Currituck Bridge would pull money away from work to address erosion hot spots along N.C. 12 on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, and other projects in the region and state.

“I am glad the court did the right thing, and I am excited to see NCDOT get moving on this project that is long overdue,” said state Sen. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck), a former chair of the Currituck Board of Commissioners.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority, which will administer the project, and Currituck County officials had not yet commented on the ruling as of Thursday afternoon.

The proposed Mid Currituck Bridge will connect U.S. 158 just south of the J.P. Knapp Bridge in Coinjock with N.C. 12 along the southern edge of the Corolla Bay neighborhood. [NCDOT map]

A webpage dedicated to the project at NCDOT.gov shows both start and completion dates as to be determined.

While the state continues to tout construction of the bridge will cost an estimated $500 million, the Southern Environmental Law Center has said the price tag will be over $608 million.

Oral arguments were heard last December in Richmond by Judge G. Steven Agee, Judge Albert Diaz, and Judge Pamela A. Harris.

The 21-page ruling issued Thursday was written by Judge Diaz, joined by Judge Agee and Judge Harris.

The plaintiffs “claim the defendants didn’t follow the procedures laid out in the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., when they approved the bridge project,” Diaz wrote. “The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment for the defendants. We affirm.”

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