In a press release from the North Carolina Department of Transportation earlier today, the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet is now closed due to, “immediate safety concerns.”
The 50-year-old bridge has been in desperate need a replacement for years, but legal holdups have halted construction on a new replacement bridge.
The press release states the bridge was closed, “in order to protect the traveling public.” Sonar scanning of the aging Outer Banks bridge identified key areas where too much sand has eroded from the support structure of the bridge.
Declared a “state of emergency” to expedite the process of repairing the treacherous bridge, NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata said in the release, “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.”
The Bonner Bridge is the only highway access for vehicles between Hatteras Island and the mainland. The release stated that the NCDOT Ferry Division will be providing emergency support to move people and cars across the Pamlico Sound.
Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon said, “We expect the emergency ferry route to be up and running Wednesday morning. We know the residents of Hatteras Island are depending on us to be their lifeline…”
Replacing the Closed Bonner Bridge
The Bonner Bridge has been in desperate need of a permanent replacement for years and although NCDOT awarded a $215.8 million dollar replacement contract to PCL Civil Constructors Inc. in August of 2011, the project was put on hold due to environmental concerns.
Activists represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center claimed that building a new bridge parallel to the existing one would harm coastal wildlife habitats. The group wanted a longer, more costly bridge to be constructed further out in the Pamlico Sound.
On September 16, 2013, NCDOT received a favorable ruling in the federal lawsuit filed by the SELC and it looked as though construction would begin a few months ago. Unfortunately, the environmental group appealed the federal judge’s ruling on October 1 – halting any further action on constructing a new bridge.
Being over 50 years old, the Bonner Bridge is way past it’s 30-year expected life cycle. NCDOT has already spent more than $56 million dollars in repairing, inspecting and maintaining the current bridge.
A recent bridge repair project has totaled more than $2 million dollars and are critical to maintain the link between Hatteras Island and the rest of the Outer Banks.