On a Tuesday in March a small collection of individuals came from near and far and gathered at the southern foot of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge. Among this group were lawmakers, activists and the Queen herself. March 8th, 2016 was the official groundbreaking ceremony to replace the decades-old bridge. After years of litigation, petitions, sweat and tears, this day was a monumental milestone for residents and all who love Hatteras Island as their home away from home.
Midgett Realty's Beth Midgett, sat in one of those seats at the foot of the bridge. She has been a huge advocate for Hatteras Island as NCDOT has struggled for decades to get this project off the ground due to a plethora of lawsuits and litigation. A key player in the group "Replace the Bridge Now", Beth was constantly involved with other stakeholder parties that participated in various negotiations between federal, state and special interest groups. Additionally, she was a member of the "Bridge Moms" who lobbied vigorously and wrote letters to lawmakers, handling a great deal of behind-the-scenes work that isn't as effective from a political seat. For her, like many others, March 8th was an emotional day that many thought Hatteras Island would never see.
The celebration was felt statewide. Senator Bill Cook wrote:
“It’s a great day for the residents of the Outer Banks and the millions of visitors that travel to the area each year. After decades of litigation, construction is finally underway to replacing the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet. The official groundbreaking ceremony was held today in Dare County at the south end of the bridge near the old Coast Guard Station. The Bonner Bridge is an important lifeline to our state’s economy, and is the only highway connection between Hatteras Island and mainland North Carolina. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a place of natural beauty, and is the birthplace of America, birthplace of aviation, and a destination for millions of visitors each year.”
The official timeline for the project is as follows:
- First Pile Driven: Late March/early April 2016
- First Girder Set: Mid-to-late July 2016
- Construction 50% Complete: June/July 2017
- All Piles Driven: January 2018
- New Bridge Scheduled to Open to Traffic: November 2018
- Demolition of Existing Bridge: November 2018 – September 2019
- Scheduled Project Completion: September 2019
Read the official press release below:
Governor McCrory Breaks Ground for a New Bonner Bridge; Celebrates as Construction Begins
RODANTHE – Governor Pat McCrory broke ground on the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge replacement over Oregon Inlet today. The official beginning of construction marks a long-awaited milestone for people who live, work or visit the Outer Banks from throughout North Carolina and from around the world.
"This is a historic moment to be able to finally put our shovels in the ground and say that construction of a new, 21st Century Bonner Bridge is underway," said Governor McCrory. "I want to thank my incredible team for helping make this day possible. I am proud to say to the people of the Outer Banks that your lifeline, a new Bonner Bridge, is on its way and it will be engineered and built to last for generations to come."
Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson, local, state and federal government officials, and hundreds of local residents joined Governor McCrory for the groundbreaking celebration. (Watch a short video about the project.)
The new bridge is designed to have a 100-year life span and is scheduled to open to traffic in November 2018. The overall project, including the demolition of the existing bridge, is scheduled to complete in September 2019.
"Thanks to the leadership of Governor McCrory, the people of Hatteras Island will have a safe, modern bridge that they can rely on for access to jobs, health care, education and recreation," said Secretary Tennyson. "The new Bonner Bridge will be built with the best materials available to protect it against the harsh salt air and water and will be the first in the state built using stainless reinforcing steel, which will provide additional protection and reduce maintenance costs."
Another benefit of the new bridge is that the high rise will be 3,500 feet long and have seven navigational spans, each averaging about 300 feet in width, which will provide more options for navigation under the bridge. Comparatively, the arched high rise of the existing bridge provides for only one navigational span with an opening of 130 feet.
"The people of the Outer Banks anxiously waited for decades to see this critical project move forward, and Governor McCrory got the dirt moving and construction underway," said N.C. Board of Transportation Member Malcolm Fearing. "I want to thank Governor McCrory for his strong leadership, and as a life-long Outer Banks resident with deep family roots here, I am so proud to be a part of his team on this."
Bonner Bridge History
Built in 1963, the existing bridge replaced an hour-long ferry ride over Oregon Inlet that could not operate in inclement weather or carry the growing population of islanders and tourists who sought to enjoy the cultural and natural beauty of the Southern Outer Banks. Today, the bridge carries tens of thousands of residents and visitors daily, helping support the state's tourism industry and providing a critical evacuation route.
The N.C. Department of Transportation began working with the local community, as well as state and federal resource agencies, on plans to replace the existing bridge with a new parallel one in 1989. After reaching agreement on how and where to build the bridge, a contract was signed in 2011 for the design and construction of the new bridge, but construction was stalled by litigation.
In June 2015, after four years of delay, Governor's McCrory's NCDOT team reached a settlement agreement with the petitioners that allowed the state to move forward with replacing the Bonner Bridge with a new parallel bridge.