Over twenty years in the planning — or should I say heated debate — the North Carolina Department of Transportation has received the all-clear to begin new construction of the aging Herbert C Bonner Bridge that connects the Northern Islands to Hatteras Island along the Outer Banks. Many locals have known for years that the bridge poses serious, if not dangerous, structural issues. Many tractor trailer drivers that frequent the bridge to deliver produce and other necessities to the southern island frequently have been heard complaining about how they feel uncomfortable crossing the bridge, especially when they are carrying heavier loads.
There really is no telling what brought the decision to do something to a conclusion in regards to the OBX bridge; bottom line, something will finally be done to resolve the tension of the public’s safety that has been growing all these years. Perhaps, the not-so-secret got out that the bridge was falling into disrepair and what was once a ‘local’ issue became a concern for the millions of visitors that cross the Outer Bank’s Oregon Inlet every year, especially during the warmer months. Sure, it’s easy enough to blame the 47-year-old bridge’s structural neglect on the mighty Atlantic rushing into the equally turgid waters of the Albemarle Sound. Truth is, though, it was only designed to last 30 years.
The $300 million NCDOT project is expected to start in early 2012, and the new bridge could be open for traffic as soon as 2015. Ironically, this project has been given a renewed sense of urgency, especially from North Carolina’s Governor Bev Purdue. North Carolina has already screened three different design-build teams as possible choices for the bridge’s construction.
To be clear the Herbert C Bonner bridge is the only way to reach Hatteras Island and Ocracoke by land. It is estimated that approximately two million vehicles cross the corridor every year. It is the only way for folks in the southern islands along the Outer Banks to escape the path of a Hurricane by land. Experts have reported over the years that the large sections of concrete have chipped and much of the steel structures are corroded. Indeed, the project is long over due and a simple band aid repair would be too little too late. A new bridge seems to be the correct choice for public safety.
The new construction plans for the Outer Banks’ Oregon Inlet bridge are to build it parallel to the existing Bonner Bridge through to Pea Island Wildlife refuge. Although public safety is the primary issue fueling the project, the $300 million-plus annual tourist revenue puts it into proper perspective. With approximately 11,000 vehicles crossing the dangerous bridge during the summer, building a replacement is long over due.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.