Two sides meet in middle on Bonner Bridge deal

So who was president when the fuss over replacing the aging Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet began? Lincoln? Jefferson? It feels like it, but at long last conservation groups and the state Department of Transportation have an agreement to allow construction of a 2.8-mile-long bridge across an inlet on the Outer Banks, parallel to the Bonner Bridge, which has long been deteriorating.

As part of the agreement, DOT will likely build a long bridge south of the inlet that will move the Outer Banks’ oft-flooded highway, N.C. 12, the flood-prone sections of it anyway, out of the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. It will, if built, go over Pamlico Sound for 7 miles.

A 2011 lawsuit had kept the DOT from moving ahead with a $215 million contract for the replacement bridge. Environmental groups were concerned about the future of the wildlife refuge and about the environmental effect of a new bridge. And N.C. 12 has been a conundrum for years, with some calling for a substantial but environmentally risky project and others wondering it would just be better to let the highway wash away. Neither was a good alternative.

Compromise seems rare these days in anything related to state government, but when environmentalists and state officials can get together, it’s a good sign. DOT Secretary Tony Tata was in on the deal and the announcement of it Monday.

The new bridge, Tata noted, obviously will help visitors to the popular Outer Banks, but it also will make life easier for residents who need a dependable, safe way to get to their jobs and their doctors and to get their kids to school.

Though this confrontation dragged on, it’s hard to see how it could have gone otherwise. When a precious environmental, and financial, asset is involved, lots of people need to be in on the discussion, including those in the lawsuit but also scientists and engineers coming forward with different ideas as to how to address the challenge.

So, yes, this has been a long time coming. But that gives the plans credibility, as environmentalists can’t say they didn’t have input in some quick, arbitrary decision and state officials can note they listened and were flexible on their plans. It would help if state legislators would bring the same willingness to compromise to their jobs these days.