A quick glimpse at a map tells the story—the Outer Banks relies on bridges for its existence. There is a lot going on with Outer Banks bridges right now, and since they are so important to our existence and our economy, we thought it would be a good time for an update.
Bonner Bridge & Pea Island
This gets linked together because, although there are three separate project, they are all part of a whole.
Pea Island is the northern end of Hatteras Island. The road from Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe passes through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and NC Dept of Transportation is granted by US Fish and Wildlife a 100’ right of way for the highway.
It is one of the most, if not the most, dynamic strip of land on the Outer Banks and is constantly subject to ocean overwash, especially at the S Curves just north of Rodanthe. Any time that happens, Hatteras Island is cut off from the transportation network.
There are three projects planned—two are moving forward and the third should be starting next year.
Bonner Bridge Replacement
After a painfully long and difficult legal battle over how to replace the Bonner Bridge that spans Oregon Inlet, a replacement for the aging bridge is moving along.
The new bridge, which is to the west and parallel to the existing one, is an engineering marvel. Many of the lesson learned from the Bonner Bridge (which opened in 1963), are being applied.
One of the consistent complaints from boaters using Oregon Inlet about Bonner Bridge is that the highest, widest spans no longer mark the channel, that the channel has moved significantly to the south. The replacement bridge answers that criticism with a 3400’ center span south of the highest point of the current bridge.
The new bridge towers over the old one. Even in the midst of construction, it is apparent that the new bridge is much larger and much higher than what is in place now.
The new bridge is designed to have a 100 year lifespan.
No specific date is given of a ribbon cutting, but NCDOT has indicated they expect to have the bridge open by fall of 2018.
N.C. 12 Pea Island Interim Bridge
When Hurricane Irene forced a breach at New Inlet, NCDOT rushed to bridge the waters with a temporary bridge. For military buffs, what is now spanning that area is the civilian equivalent of a Bailey bridge—a prefabricated metal bridge capable of handling heavy weight and high traffic.
The problem is, the bridge, although functional is pretty rough, and the 20 mph speed limit for crossing it is as much legal as it is common sense.
A replacement span is being built built immediately parallel to it. About 1000’ longer, when completed, the bottle neck caused by the temporary bridge should be a thing of the past.
The latest update from NCDOT indicated the bridge would be open by late summer of 2017. Since we’re now in fall of 2017, clearly that was optimistic, and a quick look at the bridge seems to indicate there is at least two or three months more work to do. There is ongoing construction on the spans, and it still needs to be paved.
This particular project is considered interim because the area is so dynamic that NCDOT and the Southern Environmental Law Center, who originally sued over the Bonner project, want to revisit plans to create a permanent road.
The new New Inlet did fill in within a year, and at this point the bridge spans dry sand, although there is no dune protecting the area from high seas.
The interim bridge has a projected 25 year lifespan.
The Jug Handle
The area most prone to flooding on Pea Island is the S Curves, just north of Rodanthe. A beach nourishment project held the ocean at bay for two years, but the wave energy in that area is so great that the only option is to bypass it.
The plan on the books is to create a jug handle, leaving the existing road and heading west about a mile north of Rodanthe. The road will cross the marsh and extend into Pamlico Sound, coming back to NC12 just north of the Island Convenience store in Rodanthe.
Construction is scheduled to begin in January of next year with a scheduled completion date of 2020.
Mid Currituck Bridge
Who knows? That may be the best answer we can give.
The project would span the Currituck Sound well north of the Wright Brothers Bridge, bypassing Duck and Southern Shores altogether. The bridge is seen as the most effective means to alleviate the massive traffic jams that plague visitors arriving on the Wright Memorial Bridge.
Supported by residents and politicians in the affected areas since it was first proposed in the late 1980s, the project never seems to be able to get to the finish line.
NCDOT had planned on beginning work this year and having the bridge competed by 2019. The latest information has no planned start date and no planned completion date, although it is still a part of the NCDOT project list.