The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has closed the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet on N.C. 12 along the Outer Banks due to immediate safety concerns.
Routine sonar scanning of the bridge identified scouring concerns, or areas where too much sand has eroded from the support structure of the bridge, on Dec. 3. As NCDOT crews continued to monitor these conditions, inspections revealed additional areas of concern, which led department officials to decide to close the bridge immediately for the safety of all residents and visitors of the area. The bridge will remain closed until the department can bring in additional resources to inspect the bridge and make necessary repairs to fortify the structure. NCDOT has declared a state of emergency as a way of expediting the process, and steps are already under way to begin repair work as soon as possible.
“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,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “We will work to safely reopen this vital lifeline quickly, and hope to be able to begin construction on a new bridge as soon as possible.”
The Bonner Bridge is the only highway access for vehicles between Hatteras Island and the mainland. Until it is safe to reopen, the NCDOT Ferry Division will provide emergency support to move people and cars across the Pamlico Sound. The Ferry Division began operating an emergency ferry route between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe with limited service Tuesday night Dec. 3 and will begin a full schedule of runs on Wednesday.
The division is using four 180-ft River Class vessels to run the route, which takes two hours to complete. Maximum capacity will allow 760 single cars to cross each day, 380 from each side.
All tolls currently in place on the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter and Ocracoke-Cedar Island ferry routes will be waived for residents, emergency personnel and vendors while the bridge is closed and the emergency ferry route is in operation. The U.S. Coast Guard is also currently on standby.
For decades, NCDOT has known the Bonner Bridge stands on borrowed time and needs to be replaced. NCDOT awarded a contract to a design-build team to replace the bridge in August 2011. Design work began immediately, and construction of the replacement bridge was originally set to begin in early 2013. All work is currently on hold following a series of legal challenges by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association.