Now that it’s reached retirement age, the Alligator River Bridge may finally give way to a younger, better version of itself. The Lindsay C Warren Bridge, the official name of the bridge, opened with great fanfare on February 9, 1962. Now, 61 years later, funding has finally been secured to replace the aging span.
Just after the New Year, Governor Roy Cooper announced the state had received a $110 million grant earmarked for building a replacement span from the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. The $110 million will be combined with state funds. The project’s total cost will be $289.5 million, although some of those funds are for installing broadband service along the transportation corridor.
If NCDOT can maintain its published schedule, construction will begin next year, and the new bridge will open in 2025.
When the Lindsay C Warren Bridge opened, it created the first land link between the Outer Banks and the interior of the state. Before that, drivers using US64 had to take a ferry to cross Alligator River.
The ribbon cutting attracted the North Carolina political heavyweights of the day, including Governor Terry Sanford and Congressman Herbert C. Bonner.
“Governor Sanford to Take First Trip on Warren Bridge,” the headline in the February 9, 1962, Coastland Times read.
The ribbon cutting, scheduled to begin at noon of that 1962 day, included a ten-minute speech from Congressman Bonner with dignitaries boarding the ferry for a final crossing.
“Following Congressman Bonner’s remarks, the party will board the Alligator-River Ferry, which will make its final run across the river,” the Coastland Times reported.
The Governor and his party would then drive back across the bridge as the first drivers to use the new span.
The bridge cost $2.48 million dollars—$24,081,048 in 2022 dollars. When it was completed, it was considered state of the art with wide traffic lanes and a hinged center span that would swing open to 90 degrees allowing boat traffic through.
The art of bridge building has changed profoundly since that time, and under any circumstance, as it passes 60 years of age, maintenance of the bridge is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult.
Perhaps most troubling is the swing section of the middle of the bridge designed to allow boat traffic to pass. A full rotation of the center section open to close takes five minutes without boat traffic passing through. Typically it opens 15 times or more per day, according to NDOT. It gets stuck in the open position two or three times a year. When that happens, a full hour is added to a drive to Raleigh from the Outer Banks, unless a driver did not know the bridge was stuck. When that happens, the ride will often become a five-hour trek.
The new bridge will include a number of improvements. Perhaps most importantly, the center span will have a 65’ vertical clearance over the navigation channel, giving boat traffic plenty of room to pass under.
There will be other improvements over the 1962 design as well. Right now, the bridge has approximately 10’ traffic lanes with a pretty narrow shoulder. The new bridge will feature 12’ lanes and an eight-foot shoulder. There will also be a bike lane with railings to protect bike riders from vehicular traffic.
The bridge will be just to the north of the current span. Survey crews are already on the water, checking the condition of the bottom of the Alligator River as NCDOT gets ready to build the bridge.
The new bridge will be 3.2 miles long, .4 miles longer than the current length.
Although the new bridge is much needed and will be welcome, plans that as late as 2010 called for a four-lane highway from the Outer Banks to Raleigh. In a draft environmental statement looking at transportation needs from 2012-2018, NCDOT wrote, “The…2012‐2018 State Transportation Improvement Program includes highway improvement projects that would improve the 27.3‐mile segment of existing US 64 in Tyrrell and Dare Counties from a two‐lane to a multi‐lane roadway and replace the Lindsay C. Warren Bridge over the Alligator River.”
Whether that was a hope or a plan, the four-lane concept seems to be on permanent hold as a much-improved bridge design moves forward.