So close and yet so far–that seems to be the story of the Mid Currituck Bridge, and now when the project is closer than ever to actually becoming reality, the specter of a financial straight jacket is raising its head.

Anyway you look at it, the bridge is the best way to alleviate the horrendous traffic jams that have plagued the Outer Banks on Saturdays and Sundays for the past 20 years or so. Also, about the only way to get people out of here in a timely manner in case of an evacuation.

The alternatives? Way more expensive and not as effective.

Widen Route 12 through Southern Shores and Duck? Even with property values where they are right now, it’s still prohibitively expensive. And that doesn’t even consider what it will do to the towns. It would ruin the residential character of Southern Shores and absolutely destroy the commercial district of Duck.

Doing nothing? That’s what we’re doing now, and look what it’s getting us.

The solution before us is probably the best one by far, and that is remarkable considering the path we have taken to get to where we are today. It has been a path filled with confusion, false starts and misinformation–yet here we are, at the brink of moving this forward with minimal cost to the state.

When the Turnpike Authority announced the project would go forward as a private public partnership (PPP if the acronym is used), it seemed at long last that a solution had been found to getting the bridge built. PPPs are being used increasingly to complete new road projects internationally as well domestically as governments at all levels find themselves strapped for cash but still needing to develop road systems.

The initial steps of this are being handled by ACS International, a Spanish company that specializes in this type of work. The concept here is simple–the company that builds the project (probably ACS, though that has not yet been determined) issues bonds, the state guarantees those bonds and the builder of the project collects revenues from the bridge. In this case, tolls that are being planned for the Mid Currituck Bridge. Admittedly, this is a very stripped down version of what is involved, but for our purposes, it gives an idea of what will happen.

What will it cost the state of North Carolina? $15 million per year for the next three years to build a $670 million project.

And here’s the problem. According to our new state senator for Dare and Currituck Counties, Stan White (D), when he asked the Republican leadership in the legislature if the funding for the bridge was still in the budget, he was told that although funding for the bridge is still in the budget, nothing is cast in stone. Meaning the budge axe could fall on a project that has been a part of NCDOT’s transportation improvement projects (TIP) for over 20 years.

Yes, there is a $2.5 billion budge gap to fill, but it would take 166 projects of this size to fill that hole. It may look like low hanging fruit, but this is money that needs to remain on the tree and ripen.

Not going forward on this will restrict the growth of a sector of our economy that continues to expand–and therefore pay more money to cash-strapped state coffers. And, frankly there are circumstances under which not building the bridge could endanger lives.

Yes–times are tough, and we all have to pull together to make some very difficult decisions; but those decisions must reflect what is best for our future.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Turnpike Authority