It's an ambitious proposal: Build a bridge spanning open water, seven miles long, to link North Carolina's Outer Banks with the mainland and eliminate the barrier islands' dependence on a fragile series of island roads and short spans that are subject to frequent damage from Atlantic storms.
The project's scale and cost, however, may be the reason that the idea is 20 years old, and the work has yet to start. This month, officials from Currituck County, which encompasses land on both ends of the proposed span, are pressing the legislature to move ahead with funding the project, using a mix of state money, private investment, and the promise of future tolls to be collected from drivers crossing the water. Proponents say the bridge would benefit drivers as well as the Outer Banks economy, reports The Virginian-Pilot ("Currituck fights for Outer Banks bridge project funding," by Jeff Hampton). A video supporting the measure "describes how a visitor must travel through Currituck County, cross the Wright Memorial Bridge to Dare County and turn north for 20 miles to Corolla back in Currituck County. Often on summer Saturdays, miles of traffic on U.S. 158 create two-hour delays."
But legislators from inland are painting the project as a risky boondoggle that benefits only a minority, reports the Charlotte News & Observer ("GOP legislators attack plans for seven-mile, $650 million Outer Banks toll bridge," by Bruce Siceloff). Opponents focus on the state funding part of the plan: "members argued against committing the state to pay as much as $28 million a year for four decades to cover an expected gap between toll collections – mostly from tourists – and project costs," the report says.
In view of the fact that toll collections would cover only 30% or 40% of the project's cost, Wake County Republican Senator Neal Hunt said, "From that perspective, it's hard to justify. I know they have needs down there. But, dadgummit, we have lots of needs in the state."