Bonner Bridge closed; safety cited

By EMERY P. DALESIO

Associated Press

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RALEIGH — North Carolina transportation officials closed the only bridge onto a 60-mile stretch of the Outer Banks on Tuesday after discovering the deteriorating span posed an immediate safety threat.

The state Department of Transportation said it closed the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet on N.C. Highway 12 to protect the traveling public. The DOT declared last week that the inlet had scoured out sand around the base of supports at the southern end of the bridge, near Hatteras Island.

Subsequent sonar tests and divers found there was more sand gone in that section of the bridge than previously thought, DOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said. Reopening the bridge will

require fortifying the bridge’s support columns and bringing in additional sand, he said.

The Bonner Bridge is the only road access for vehicles between Hatteras Island and the mainland. An emergency ferry projected to open as early as Wednesday morning will move people and cars across the Pamlico Sound to Hatteras Island, transportation officials said.

“Closing the Bonner Bridge is necessary to keep all travelers safe, but we know it will have a devastating effect on the people who live along and visit the Outer Banks,” state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said in a statement. “We will work to safely reopen this vital lifeline quickly.”

Once the ferry is operating at full capacity on a full schedule, it will be able to carry 760 cars a day in both directions, the DOT said. The bridge carries as many as 13,000 vehicles during peak travel days during the summer vacation season.

The bridge was designed to last 30 years when built in 1963. DOT began the process of trying to replace the Bonner Bridge in 1989 and awarded a contract of almost $216 million in 2011 for construction that was set to begin earlier this year.

But the new bridge’s building timetable of two to three years was postponed in part by environmentalists, who want a 17-mile bridge that would be one of the longest in the world. Environmentalists contend replicating the current 2.5-mile-long structure ignores its effects on the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the frequent breaches of N.C. 12 by water and sand kicked up by storms.

The proposed 17-mile bridge would bypass the refuge, but building the second-longest bridge in the United States would cost more than $1.1 billion, federal Judge Louise Flanagan wrote in September in a ruling allowing the shorter span.

An appeal of that federal lawsuit and a state challenge still block the start of construction.

Hatteras Island can also be reached by ferry from nearby Ocracoke Island. Tolls on two ferry routes to Ocracoke from the mainland are being waived for island residents, emergency workers and suppliers while the bridge is closed, the state DOT said.

Comments

STOP

Stop all work at once. Repairs could endanger both Piping Plovers and Sea Turtles. Remove the bridge, and power and water to the island. Let nature take it back. Be a tree hugger.

Agreed!

Barrier islands were never meant to be permanently populated by humans; they shift and fluctuate at the mercy of nature. Even the Native Americans only established a village at Hatteras, the widest, most elevated and most stable part of the island chain. The remaining islands were only visited periodically if resource gathering dictated a need. As modern humans, to build entire villages of stores and vacation homes on what is a geological impermanence is truly folly. When nature has her way (and she often does), we see new inlets blown through the island. That is completely natural and even essential to the life cycle of the island. Breaches and blowovers funnel sand from the oceanside to collect on the soundside, maintaining the island, albeit moving it ever closer inch-by-inch toward the mainland. But as 'enlightened' humans, over the past eighty years, we have sought to control nature by preventing such natural sand replenishment, building houses on the oceanside, where the Native Americans and early white settlers knew not to build. When waves threatened their structures, man built a line of artificial dunes in the 1930s which though somewhat effective at protecting property in the short-term, endangers the lifecycle of the islands, preventing sand from being replenished on the soundside. So, homeowners, renters and store owners, don't complain when your island is being eroded on both sides. You, as beneficiaries of development have caused your own demise. The Outer Banks will always be a fragile wind and water-whipped chain of islands. Better to give them back to nature as it should be.

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