Federal District Court Judge Louise Flanagan has dismissed an environmental lawsuit against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) over the agency's plan to replace the Bonner Bridge across the Oregon Inlet with a new span. The Virginian-Pilot has the story here: ("Judge rules in favor of Bonner Bridge construction," by Jeff Hampton).

"The agency awarded a $215.8 million contract two years ago to build a new span nearly 3 miles long over Oregon Inlet to Hatteras Island," the paper reports. "Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association filed suit in 2011, saying bridge construction would harm the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, have an adverse effect on wildlife and the environment, and still would not solve the problems of keeping N.C. 12 open after big storms."

But in a 42-page opinion ("Defenders of Wildlife v. NCDOT"), Judge Flanagan ruled that the state agency had followed the rules and properly considered the cost, practicality, and environmental impact of the proposed new span.

NCDOT has a website page explaining its plans for the replacement bridge ("Bonner Bridge Replacement Project"). "The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge is a lifeline along the Outer Banks," the agency says. "It provides the only highway connection for thousands of Hatteras Island residents to work, schools, and healthcare on the mainland. As many as 13,000 vehicles cross over the bridge during peak travel days in the summer, an important part of North Carolina's $19.4 billion a year tourism industry. With landmarks like the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one- quarter of the county's overall economic impact comes from Hatteras Island tourism alone."

Without a new bridge, maintaining the old one is an ongoing cost, the agency says: "The poor condition of the bridge dictates close monitoring, especially following storms. In 2012, the department installed technology that allows crews to quickly check for any movement of the piers. A series of points are marked along 150 of the bridge's 200 spans. Each point is surveyed before the start of hurricane season, and again after each storm to see if it has moved. This technology enables engineers to determine if the bridge is safe for NCDOT crews to cross immediately after a storm, ensuring both quick response time and safety of employees. A full survey and additional inspections are conducted before the bridge can open to the public. NCDOT also uses sonar technology to conduct underwater surveys monthly, as well as after each storm, to look for problems."

The agency has posted this visualization of the proposed new bridge on YouTube (below).