OBX Roads & Bridges | The Future of our Coastal Infrastructure

As the replacement span for the Bonner Bridge nears its projected March ribbon cutting, it is certainly the largest and most visible of the NCDOT projects on the Outer Banks. It is not, however, the only one moving forward or planned.

The Bonner Bridge replacement over the Oregon Inlet as seen from above, Jan 2019

It is, in fact, part of an overall transportation improvement package that will include projects over the next seven or eight year.

With the new bridge moving toward completion, this seems like a good time to take a look at the other major projects that will affect the Outer Banks.

Pea Island

The big action right now is on Pea Island, and rightfully so. Without the current series of major projects, travel to Hatteras Island would become increasingly difficult in the foreseeable future.

Bonner Bridge Replacement

The crown jewel of the Pea Island road projects is the replacement for the Bonner Bridge, now complete.

The new span is an awe-inspiring sight. Much longer than the Bonner Bridge, significantly higher and using construction techniques that were not even available in 1964 when the first bridge was built, the new span will have a 100 year projected life.

The new Bonner Bridge replacement over Oregon Inlet was open to foot traffic and cyclists on Feb 9

After the ribbon cutting, there will be some additional work creating some lane closures this spring. The old bridge will also be mostly dismantled, and much of the material will be cleaned and used to create an artificial reef off of the Outer Banks.

The mostly dismantled bridge leaves room for a 1000’ fishing pier that will remain on the Pea Island side.

Jug Handle

Replacing NC 12 at the S Curves just north of Rodanthe, the Jug Handle is the last major component of the Pea Island plan. Construction is underway, and the $145.33 million project is scheduled for completion next year.

S Curves is one of the best known sites on the Outer Banks for great surfing conditions. Unfortunately the same forces that create those conditions are the same forces that make any longterm plan to protect the road in that area a fools errand.

The Jug Handle solution will allow nature to take its course. NC 12 is being rerouted into Pamlico Sound, where it will form a loop and rejoin the road just north of Liberty Island Convenience Store.

Like the Bonner Bridge replacement, the Jug Handle is being engineered for a 100 year lifespan.

Richard Etheridge Bridge

Although the Richard Etheridge Bridge, which crosses the New Inlet area between Oregon Inlet and Rodanthe, was dedicated in February of last year, the project has not been completed. With a 25 year predicted lifespan, the bridge is not considered a permanent solution.

Similar to S Curves, the New Inlet area is so dynamic that trying to protect the existing road is difficult. The area is not as prone to overwash and flooding as S Curves, but at least three inlets have opened and closed in the past 300 years.

The favored solution at this point seems to be a design similar to the Jug Handle. However, because of the sensitive nature of the wetlands in that area, it is not certain that will be the final answer.

Mid-Currituck Bridge

The Mid-Currituck Bridge is still on the table and some money has already been spent—mostly on an Environmental Impact Statement. One of the NCDOT planning documents has construction scheduled to begin sometime this year and be completed by 2023.

The NCDOT website, though, indicates a ‘To Be Determined’ start and finish date. The Record of Decision, according to the website, was supposed to be issued by the end of 2018. No ROD has been issued, and without an ROD, nothing can move forward.

The total cost of the project is projected to be approximately $490 million. It will be a toll road, and the hope is that the tolls will help to allay the cost of building the bridge.

There are environmental concerns about the bridge. It will pass over Maple Swamp on the Currituck mainland side, and worries that it will accelerate construction along the Currituck Banks and further stress and already stressed ecology have been expressed by environmental groups.

However, new home and business construction seems to be continuing with or without the bridge and local government officials.  Businesses and property owners look to the bridge as a vital road in the event an evacuation is needed. There is also support for the bridge for business development on the mainland side, as well as employment opportunity for areas of high unemployment in northeastern North Carolina.

Bypass Project

This project is far in the future, but we thought we would include it because it will likely move forward. NCDOT uses a ranking system to determine priorities, and this particular project is one of the highest priority major projects in eastern North Carolina.

The descriptive language is dry and doesn’t really tell the whole story.

“US 64-NC 12 TO Eastern end of Currituck Sound Bridge. Access management improvements. $97,260,000.”

Translation: From the Wright Memorial Bridge to Whalebone Junction in Nags Head, what is now a five lane highway with a middle turn lane will become a limited access highway with controlled intersections.

Right of way and utility work is scheduled to begin in 2025 with a hoped-for completion in 2027.

For anyone who has tried to make a left hand turn on the Bypass (US 158) in the summer—this project can’t happen soon enough.