Conceptual plan for NC 12 hot spots accepted by task force

Published 9:35 am Sunday, February 19, 2023

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The NC 12 Task Force has settled on short and long-range solutions to vulnerable sections of the famed highway.

The 11-member task force and its 19-member subcommittee were created to work collaboratively to maintain access to the NC 12 corridor on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

The subcommittee, chaired by Robert L. Outten, Dare’s county manager, and David Hallac, superintendent of the National Parks in Eastern North Carolina, created the conceptual plan presented to the task force on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023.

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With consensus about four of the five remaining vulnerable areas, those concerned about the road now have something to present when looking for funding.

And, that funding may be there.

Here’s a rundown of the conceptual plan:

Canal Zone and Pea Island Visitor Center. This area is the “gateway to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands” and dubbed the top priority for attention. This area is the northern portion of Hatteras Island running from the southern foot of the Oregon Inlet Bridge to past the current location of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

For the short-term, the consensus is to continue to removing sand, building back dunes, constructing temporary bridges over breaches and consider beach nourishment as a stop-gap measure.

Long-term: build a seven-mile bridge from the south end of the Oregon Inlet Bridge past the troubled Visitor Center area.

In a 2021 report, NCDOT estimated the cost for building a longer bridge at $75 million per mile making the total construction cost at $525 million. Moving the electric lines will cost $15 million a mile for a cost of $105 million. With these estimates, the total cost could be $730 million.

Rodanthe S-Curves. The long-term solution – building a bridge around the problem area – has occurred. The Rodanthe Bridge opened in 2022.

Avon. Rapid erosion has created a hot spot from the Avon Pier south to the village line. Substantial flooding occurs from waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound. The flooding interrupts traffic but does not destroy the NC 12 pavement.

Short-term: Dare County finished a beach nourishment project during the summer of 2022.

Long-term: Continue beach nourishment is the consensus. Other ideas considered were raising the road in place, building a bridge around Avon and a combination of raising the road and beach nourishment. A new feasibility study is requested to explore long-term options.

Buxton. The vulnerable area runs from the south end of Avon through the northern portion of

Short-term: Two beach nourishment projects have been completed, one in 2018 and again in 2022. States the report, beach nourishment “will likely continue to be implemented.”

Long-term: The consensus recommendation is to build a bridge that starts from the southern end of Avon and comes into the center of Buxton village.

Frisco/Hatteras. This hot spot is considered the second highest priority. The area is “particularly vulnerable to coastal hazards,” states the report.

Short-term: “Very few alternatives” exist in this area. However, the consensus is to use beach nourishment to preserve the roadway and to raise the roadbed to lessen seepage in northern Hatteras village.

Long-term: The consensus for this area was to build a bridge from the Frisco bath house into Hatteras village, avoiding the entire vulnerable area.

Ocracoke. This is the third priority. States this report, “vehicle transportation from Hatteras to Ocracoke along the NC 12 corridor is very vulnerable” because of three challenges. First, the vehicle ferry navigation channel is difficult to maintain. Next, the South Dock Terminal facility is rapidly eroding. And finally, the two miles of beach south of the ferry terminal is rapidly eroding and the ocean frequently overwashes the roadbed.

Short-term: The subcommittee agreed that “very few short-term solutions” exist for this area except beach nourishment. Short-term the strategy is to continue “to hold the dock and roadway in place until a more permanent solution could be implemented.”

Long-term: “The consensus of the subcommittee was to move the South Dock to an undetermined location nearer to Ocracoke Village to avoid the cost of having to build a long causeway type entrance to the dock in locations previously identified, to avoid having the dock located in an area that would likely be cut off from Ocracoke Village in storms and from continued erosion and to mitigate as much as possible the negative impact of tourism.” The adopted report recommends additional study of a “landing site in the location of Ocracoke Village near Silver Lake and other areas … to facilitate decision making.”

The report concludes: “The N.C. 12 Subcommittee generally recommends the construction of bridges around all N.C. 12 hotspots as the most sustainable long-term solution in all areas. Additional design work is needed to determine the exact length and entry and exit locations for each bridge. Detailed planning and design should consider the most current sea level rise projections available.”

The most promising news as to finance came from Kym Hunter, a subcommittee representative from the Southern Environmental Law Center. She provided a detailed report about funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which created at new program called the PROTECT Program. The new program helps “address the ability of the transportation system to respond to current and future weather events and natural disasters.”  Funds come in distribution by formula to states and through a competitive discretionary grant program. Over the next five years, North Carolina is slated to receive $194,421,690 under the formula.

Going forward, the NC 12 Task Force will meet each quarter by conference call to continue to coordinate the search for funds and other actions.