Mid-Currituck Bridge to Corolla NC: Current Status Update and Impact to Area Analysis

Mid Currituck Bridge to Corolla, NC - Current Status and Impact to Area Analysis

Current Status: In Development

When the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Mid-Currituck Bridge was completed, way back in January 2012, it looked like a bridge that has been discussed for over 40 years was finally becoming a reality.

Unfortunately, some changes in the state legislature changed how the NCDOT evaluated and prioritized projects. As a result, the next step in the process to get the bridge built, the Record of Decision, was never issued.

The project is included in the State Transportation Improvement Program and is scheduled to have the Record of Decision issued by spring 2018. In order to issue the Record of Decision, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be reviewed; since it has been more than 3 years since the approval of the EIS.

Once the Record of Decision is issued, the next steps are: developing a new traffic and revenue study and toll financing plan, selecting a builder, preparing final design plans, acquiring right of way, and obtaining environmental agency permits. The NCDOT shows the construction begin date and opening date as “to be determined”.

Coastal Impact

Proponents who favor building the bridge are likely to reference the reduction in time visitors spend in getting to their vacation home and the congestion or backup of traffic on summer weekends. This includes the additional gas burned and pollutants emitted as a result of having to travel south through the Wright Memorial Bridge before heading back north to the Currituck beach destinations. Currently, the only way to access the northern Outer Banks is by crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge into Dare County.

The mid Currituck Bridge is likely to have a far reaching impact on the Corolla and Carova area. The impact will extend into Dare County as well. Dare county has suffered from the increased traffic congestion, especially on community side streets, as vacationers try to find “short cuts” to avoid traffic on their way to the Currituck beaches.

Another important reason for building the bridge is public safety. The North Carolina Department of Transportation estimates the hurricane evacuation clearance times for those using U.S. 158 and N.C. 168 already exceeds the state-designated standard of 18 hours.

In 2007, the clearance time was 27 hours. In 2035, without an alternate route, the clearance time is forecasted to be about 36 hours.

The increase in evacuation times is life threatening when you consider studies by showing hurricanes intensify significantly faster now than they did 25 years ago. Specifically, researchers found storms attain Category 3 wind speeds nearly nine hours faster than they did in the 1980s. One recent storm, IRMA also broke records for the speed at which it strengthened to a category 5.

The Mid Currituck Bridge will provide more direct access to first responders. This is especially helpful for medical emergencies and may reduce the need for the med-flight services as the bridge would provide quicker access to Virginia Medical Facilities.

Employers in the Currituck Outer Banks will have an easier time getting employees due to the shorter commute from using the bridge.

A discounted fare structure on tolls for locals will likely be needed to make it attractive and affordable to local mainland residents. There are relatively few year round residents in the Currituck Outer Banks so finding employees to fill summer needs has been a consistent problem.

The Corolla and Corova demographics could also shift to include more year round residents with school age children. Currently, the long bus ride from the Currituck Outer Banks to the mainland discourages parents from living there.

The Mid Currituck Bridge and the proximity to Virginia will encourage more day trips to the Currituck Outer Banks.

Mainland Impact

A study back in 2008, “Economic Development Strategy Vision Plan” for Currituck County, predicted some impacts to the mainland side of the county as a result of the Mid Currituck bridge being built. The study predicted:

  • A mix of businesses will occur in approximately 7.6 square mile area near Aydlett between Hwy 158 and the mainland bridge intersection at the Currituck Sound
  • Establishment of 34 businesses at the bridge, including retail stores, restaurants, service businesses and a hotel with estimated total annual sales of $78 million
  • The creation of 468 new jobs with $9.6 million in new labor income
  • The total industry output generated to be $36.2 million.

The role the mainland will have after the bridge is built will be determined by the cost of the toll.

Some, like the Southern Environmental Law Center have speculated that the toll will need to be as high as $26 each way in season to finance the $410 million (and likely growing) construction costs.

The actual dollar amount of the toll will either encourage or deter locals and visitors from mid-week traffic across the bridge to shop, visit entertainment and other recreational venues on the mainland side of the county.

Currently, there is little commercial development in the Aydlett area. The Maple Swamp area adjacent to where the new bridge is to be built is protected wetlands so it will not be able to be developed. Much of the Route 158 main corridor is not developed and presents opportunities for the county and the residents to direct development preferences.

Recent progress regarding future development in the county has occurred at the northern perimeter. The Moyock Mega-Site, is a long-term economic development plan developed for the County to bring employment and commercial opportunities to Currituck over the next three decades. The Mega-Site encompasses over 3,000 acres adjacent to the border with Virginia and located on the western side of North Carolina 168/Caratoke Highway in Moyock.

The proposal is a mix of commercial uses such as retail stores, medical offices, and locations for high-tech industrial businesses with a variety of residential areas. According to the website, the purpose is “planning for and investing in this site, the County looks to attract quality businesses, employers and developers in order to create an area where Currituck citizens can live, work and play as our population changes”.

Further south in Powells Point, H2OBX opened in June 2017. This $46 million dollar investment is a new mainland recreational offering for residents and vacationers alike. The mid Currituck Bridge will encourage vacationers to visit attractions and recreation venues on the mainland side of the county.

Future

The Outer Banks is a 200 mile long strip of sand sticking out into the ocean. This peninsula is home to over 50,000 year round residents and the numbers are growing. In Currituck County, the permanent population is 25,000 and forecasted to increase to 42,000 by 2045.

Not all residents or tourist agree regarding the need for the bridge. Some believe the negative environmental potential effects are not worth the cost of the bridge and other alternatives should be pursued. Some believe the additional visitors to the Currituck Outer Banks will be too much for the delicate eco-system.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is on record as opposing the project for some time. They have raised concerns about environmental damage and continuing buildout of the Currituck Banks. The organization has presented an alternative plan that would include flyovers, widening roads, staggering check in days and other suggestions.

It is likely the Southern Environmental Law Center will sue to stop the project but they will do so after the Record of Decision is issued, since the project is not officially on the books until that time.

Another group opposing the bridge is the “No Mid-Currituck Bridge“.

There is no shortage on opinions regarding the need for and or the economic viability for the mid Currituck Bridge. No matter which side of the discussion you may be on; after over 40 years, there is likely not to be a quick ending. Stay tuned, the story of the Mid-Currituck Bridge has only begun.

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