NAGS HEAD — A state transportation official says the discovery of two old deeds will help North Carolina save $300 million when it replaces the bridge across Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks.
The discovery of the deeds will allow the state Department of Transportation to save the money while replacing the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge by not requiring a certain route. The existing 2 1/2 -mile-long bridge was built in 1963.
The deeds were found in the archives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reported Monday. The documents from 1953 and 1958 give the state right of way at any time through a wildlife refuge on Hatteras Island at the southern end of the bridge.
Jim Trogdon, the DOT's chief operating officer, said the documents will let planners build a route that doesn't follow the current right of way.
Right-of-way issues have been a major impediment to the construction. Now the department won't have to stay within an established corridor through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and can follow a preferred alternative route.
Flexibility pays off
"Those deeds gave us the right of way any time in the future for transportation in perpetuity," Trogdon said. "That changed the interpretation that we were forced to stay in the original right of way, which is the principle that we've been operating under since 2005-06."
Trogdon said the state is abandoning the phased approach: building a bridge over the inlet, then building smaller bridges along N.C. Highway 12 through the refuge. The state now prefers to build a bridge parallel to the existing bridge over the inlet and build another bridge from the southern part of the refuge to the north end of the village of Rodanthe.
Trogdon said the deeds were discovered after federal highway officials asked to see them before signing off on the phased approach.
Costs for the phased approach were estimated at $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion. The preferred alternative is expected to cost $300 million less.
Planning for a replacement bridge began in 1990, but was stalled for years before being revived in 1999. Then progress halted when an engineer said the plan called for anchoring the bridge to eroding shoreline.
DOT planners came up with a proposal for a 17.5-mile bridge that bypassed the refuge, but local officials objected to the cost and the lack of access to the refuge. After that, DOT planned the phased approach that follows the original right of way.