James H. Trogdon III: ‘Long bridge’ concept fails over funding

October 8, 2012 

‘Long bridge’ concept fails over funding

In her Oct. 3 Point of View article (“Wrong route on Hatteras”), Julie Youngman, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, set forth the opinion about N.C 12 and NCDOT held by her organization, which regularly files lawsuits to stop transportation projects across the state, including a suit to halt the N.C. 12/Bonner Bridge project. What Youngman neglected to mention is that NCDOT has studied this corridor for more than 20 years. The views that she expressed are those of an attorney, not those of a professional scientist or engineer.

The challenges we face on our coast are unique. The ocean can and will shift the sands and change the shape of our barrier islands. Our role as transportation engineers is to develop options that address these challenges in cooperation with coastal scientists, agency partners, elected officials and citizens. These transportation options must have realistic designs and we must be able to pay for them.

The option Youngman and the attorneys in her Chapel Hill-based organization are pushing is known locally as the “long bridge” – a 17.5 mile structure in Pamlico Sound. This option offers many engineering challenges but the biggest obstacle is funding. There is no funding tool available in our state to build a $1 billion bridge. That would require spending the entire NCDOT budget for this 14-county region for 10 years on a single project!

The Bonner Bridge has served millions of people for nearly 50 years and has outlasted its original life expectancy. Originally scheduled to be replaced in the early 1990s, it must be replaced now.

The project area encompassing N.C. 12 and the Bonner Bridge is probably one of the most studied stretches of highway in the nation. The state has spent millions of dollars to examine various alternatives, to ensure the consideration of the best available science, and to review and respond to public comments. NCDOT’s principal environmental documents are available on our website, and we invite everyone to take a look at them.

In the end, we must build a reliable option that balances the transportation and safety needs of the public while protecting our natural environment. And we must be able to pay for that solution. An idea will remain an idea if it is too expensive to implement. That is the reality of the world we live in.

Youngman is wrong in her accusation that NCDOT is ignoring the likelihood of another storm. The truth is quite the opposite. The option selected by NCDOT, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration and other federal and state permitting agencies, allows us to continue to monitor Hatteras Island and address needs when and where they arise. Having the flexibility to respond to coastal conditions is the right approach for N.C 12. NCDOT has not bullied any of its partner agencies, and the planning process was not clouded by political pressure, contrary to Youngman’s claim.

NCDOT will continue evaluating projects based on all relevant criteria, continue coordinating with our partner agencies and the public in an open and transparent process, and continue making decisions that are in the overall best public interest. This is the way that transportation decisions should be made, not through protracted and costly litigation, and certainly not at the expense of our communities and the citizens I have pledged to serve.

James H. Trogdon III, PE

Chief Operating Officer, N.C. Department of Transportation

Raleigh

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