A federal judge has issued a ruling partially clearing the way for a new span to replace the Bonner Bridge along the Outer Banks.
Activists represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center claim building a new bridge parallel to the existing bridge that links Hatteras Island and the mainland would harm coastal wildlife habitats. They want a longer, more costly bridge further out in Pamlico Sound.
Judge Louise Flanagan says she saw no reason a plan to build the project in phases could not move forward. In a conference call with reporters, state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said the ruling will mean safer access to the coast.
"Judge Flanagan's decision supports that NCDOT cares about the economy, the environmental impact in all that we do, and the people -- both who live there and who visit there -- and we strive to find that balance between all three of those aspects," Tata said.
NCDOT officials must now seek a ruling on a petition at the state level before starting construction. In the meantime, NCDOT will proceed with repair projects to keep the Bonner Bridge in working order.
Tata says a new bridge will take up to three years to build.