RALEIGH, North Carolina — The two sides facing off in a dispute over a replacement for the Bonner Bridge say talks are underway to break the impasse.
A joint statement from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the N.C. Department of Transportation says the agencies are in confidential discussions about replacing the aging bridge with a parallel span while addressing transportation problems along N.C. 12.
The statement said that after a recent ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the two sides determined it was best to move forward with talks aimed at resolving the dispute.
Transportation Secretary Tony Tata says the talks have been underway for more than a year and he's hoping for a permanent solution.
"We are continuing to work together with NCDOT to resolve this matter with a reliable, long-term solution that ensures the safety of the traveling public and avoids the problems that currently threaten N.C. 12," said Derb Carter, director of the North Carolina offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Gov. Pat McCrory praised the efforts by the two sides.
"We know how crucial N.C. 12 is to connectivity for residents and visitors of the Outer Banks and I applaud our joint negotiations to resolve this matter as quickly as possible," McCrory said.
In August, the appeals court unanimously rejected the state's plan to replace the Bonner Bridge without rerouting N.C. 12 away from the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The dispute centers on a plan to replicate the existing 2.5-mile bridge across Oregon Inlet at a cost of $216 million. Environmental groups are backing a 17-mile bridge that would bypass the refuge. That bridge would cost an estimated $1 billion, according to transportation officials, and result in the second-longest bridge in the U.S.
The bridge is the only span connecting the mainland to Hatteras Island and was designed to last 30 years when built in 1963.
On Monday, NCDOT closed the bridge briefly so workers can scan the span. DOT also performs monthly underwater sonar scans.