Sometime in 2021, probably in the winter or early spring, the Jug Handle Bridge will open. The bridge curves into Pamlico Sound and connects with the NC12 by the Island Convenience Store in north Rodanthe
It is a massive project carrying a price tag of $145.3 million. When completed the bridge will be 2.4 miles long and will bypass one of the most dynamic stretches of beach along the Outer Banks.
When it does open to traffic, the problems NCDOT has had trying to keep the S Curves north of the village open will finally be resolved. That part of the road will be removed and nature will be allowed to run its course.
The project is about 25% complete and is currently on schedule according to NCDOT officials. At a recent community meeting in Rodanthe, Resident Engineer for the project Pablo Hernandez said, “Right now, we are still targeting an early 2021 timeframe for completion. This may shift, however, due to weather and other factors.”
When asked what type of weather delays could slow the project, Hernandez pointed to Hurricane Dorian, saying, “As we’ve all seen over the past few months, the weather can have a significant impact.”
The project has moved forward with relatively few glitches. Perhaps the most significant problem that has been encountered were concrete bents or pilings that did not meet the standards of the project.
The bents are the base that the road will rest on. In an undertaking like the Jug Handle, with its projected 100-year lifespan, the construction of the bents is particularly critical and according to reports from NCDOT, onsite inspectors at the bridge felt the bents were not meeting the standard for the project. Some bents were returned after delivery.
Indications are that the problem has been solved and the project is moving forward as planned.
Construction is occurring simultaneously from Rodanthe on the south end and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to the north.
The south end of the project is farther from land than the north end. Current plans call for placing bents about 1350’ from land in the first part of January.
Because the north end required additional grading and roadwork before construction could begin on the bridge, the pilings are not quite as far from the shore as the Rodanthe end. Current plans call for placing bents about 850-900’ from shore in the coming weeks.
Although the materials and equipment that are being used are very much 21st-century technology, the manner in which the bridge is being built is much the same as this type of bridge has been built for centuries.
As the foundation for the bridge is placed, rails are run along the bents and some type of machinery goes to the end of the rails and pounds the next set of bents into place. When the bents are in place, the rails are extended and the machinery continues forward.
The only difference between what is happening on the Jug Handle and a project from 100 years ago is the size of the machinery and technology that allows for much greater efficiency and accuracy in the placement of the bents.
There is one design feature of the project that is worth noting.
Where the road coming off the bridge will intersect the existing road in Rodanthe, a roundabout will be used.
At the Rodanthe meeting, there were a number of questions about why a roundabout instead of what would be a T intersection is part of the plans. Project engineers noted that although a standard intersection with a light would probably work well in the offseason and even in some parts of the shoulder seasons, during the peak summer season, backups would invariably occur and there would be a good chance of gridlock as well.
There will be a small section of the road north of the new intersection that is part of Rodanthe. Project managers stressed that NCDOT will continue to maintain that section of the road to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge border.