SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Cape Fear Crossing is off the table — for now. The long-planned $1 billion bridge project that would add a new connection between Brunswick and New Hanover County did not score high enough to receive construction funding in a recent state transportation scoring program.
A decision on one of North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) six studied and preferred routes was first expected this summer. After a pair of public hearings in May, NCDOT announced the public hearings were “such a success” that the department would push back its decision until the end of the year.
NCDOT’s next draft round of transportation program scoring is planned in February 2022. Before that time, local transportation officials and NCDOT will score the bridge against other competing projects once again.
However, a decision on the Preferred Alternative could still come prior to the 2022 draft scoring plan, according to an NCDOT spokesperson.
Crossing the Cape Fear
Planned since 1993, the project now known as Cape Fear Crossing has seen many iterations. This year, the project reached its furthest step with the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), Sea Level Rise Assessment, and a planned date for its merger team consisting of 15 local and federal groups to reach consensus to select a Preferred Alternative route.
The state has spent $11.54 million studying the project, as of NCDOT’s draft 2020-2029 State Transportation Improvement Plan, released last month.
The decision to halt work on the project comes after heated public hearings in May and notably, a scathing letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). The SELC is currently representing a citizen’s group in a lawsuit against NCDOT over its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Mid-Currituck Bridge.
In its findings, the SELC described NCDOT consultants as “plowing ahead” in planning route alternatives before a purpose and need for the project had actualized.
SELC’s letter to NCDOT concludes:
“The DEIS is riddled with myriad errors, omissions, and misrepresentations regarding the project’s environmental effects, financial viability, traffic forecasts, and community impacts. The sheer volume of unstudied and undisclosed information demonstrates that NCDOT has failed to the ‘hard look’ at the environmental consequences of its projects required by [the National Environmental Policy Act].”
NCDOT is required by law to respond to each public comment received, which totaled over 3,000 in a 60-day period. According to an NCDOT spokesperson, comments are being finalized and are expected to be approved and released by next week.
“This project can be considered for a future transportation improvement plans, if it is submitted by the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization,” an NCDOT release on the decision states.
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