With the cutting of a ribbon on April 2, the new bridge over Oregon Inlet is officially the Marc Basnight Bridge. Named for lifelong Manteo resident State Senator Marc Basnight, it is better in every way imaginable than the Bonner Bridge.
The bridge is a massive structure, dwarfing the old span. Using materials and engineering concepts that were not even available in 1963 when the Bonner Bridge was built, this bridge has a design life of 100 years, 70 years longer than the planned life of the original span.
“It took 100 engineers who worked on this project to work on this design,” NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon said in his remarks at the ribbon cutting. “If you take all the piles that have been used and placed end to end it would stretch 16 miles. It is 3550’ long, with the highest level navigation span and the third longest segmental box girder in North America.”
His remarks highlighted the remarkable effort and innovation that went into building the bridge. Segmental box girder construction is a relatively new concept that creates a lighter yet stronger structure. The piles that would stretch 16 miles include many that were pounded 100’ and more into the sandy bottom beneath the waters of Oregon Inlet to address the scour from the powerful current.
The scour at Oregon Inlet is so severe that the Bonner Bridge had to be closed at one point when it was discovered some of the bridge’s pilings were no longer attached to the ground.
Although the engineering and construction feats that created the bridge are truly noteworthy, the dedication ceremony was focused much more on the human element of the journey to this point. Those human efforts included considerable time and effort and Senator Basnight.
Senator Basnight was the longest serving Senator Pro Tem in North Carolina history. He resigned his seat in 2011 because of health issues.
The senator’s daughters Vicki and Caroline read a letter their father sent to commemorate the bridge. “Bridges bring people together and never divide,” the Senator wrote.
Current NCDOT Board of Transportation Representative for District 1, Allen Moran spoke feelingly about the Senator who is his father-in-law. He recalled as a boy seeing the Senator and the simple human gestures that he offered. As a teenager and adult, Moran spoke of the Senator as a mentor and finally family. His remarks touched on what he saw was an individual who never seemed to lose the spark of humanity as he represented the people of northeastern North Carolina. “Although Marc has assumed a powerful role and accomplished many great feats, his greatest accomplishment was for many of us in the small towns of eastern North Carolina. He is and always will be a neighbor, a legend, a mentor and family. For this reason, I am honored to call this bridge the Marc Basnight Bridge,” he said.
How diverse the effort was to build the new bridge built was highlighted by Natalie Kavanagh, one of the cofounders with Beth Midgett of the Bridge Moms. Perhaps no group was as effective at putting a human face on the need for a new bridge as the Bridge Moms.
The Bridge Moms were very much a grassroots organization of Hatteras Island mothers and grandmothers that simply wrote letters telling everyone and anyone in power about their fears for their families and themselves if anything happened to the Bonner Bridge.
In her remarks, Kavanagh recalled what it was like the first time she gave voice to those fears. She also made note of one of the unsung heroes of getting a replacement for the Bonner Bridge, Commissioner Warren Judge.
Commissioner Judge was a forceful, persistent and eloquent advocate for a new bridge. He did not live to see the Basnight Bridge completed, passing away in 2016, but he did live long enough to see construction begin.
“About 10 years ago I was sitting in a crowded room waiting to give my public comments to NCDOT about replacing the Bonner Bridge,” Kavanagh said. “I thought no one would listen to my small voice. My friend Commissioner Warren Judge, was there that night and I asked him for advice, and he said, ‘Just speak from the heart and they will listen.’”
And listen they did. The hundreds of letters from the Bridge Moms found their way to the Governor’s desk in Raleigh and all the way to the Whitehouse.
Commissioner Trogdon told a quick tale the said much about Senator Basnight and the long and sometimes torturous journey to the ribbon cutting.
“I’ve been working on this project for the past 15 years,” he said. “I think it was May of 2004 when he (Senator Basnight) asked me to work on it. I thought it was a four-week project.” He paused and added. “I ended up being mistaken.”
The official dedication was left to Governor Roy Cooper, with the wind rising and rain pelting tent where the ceremony was being held, he said, “This is the perfect day because it shows the resilience and the determination of the people of the Outer Banks…A nor’easter we can take.”
Then, following remarks about how Senator Pro Tem Marc Basnight had taken a young Senator Cooper under his wing and helped and mentored him, the Governor said, “Let’s dedicate this bridge. Let’s go have fun on the Outer Banks and let’s make this a North Carolina that works for everyone.”