Crews have begun to repair the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge after it closed Monday due to safety concerns. In the meantime, emergency ferry routes have been activated to transport motorists across Oregon Inlet.
Commuting for the 4,000 residents of Hatteras Island has been a headache. Use of the Bonner Bridge, the only highway connection to the mainland for locals, was shut down on Monday due to safety concerns. Melissa Herman has lived on Hatteras Island for 30 years. She works at Blue Pelican Gallery and she says since the bridge closed, business has been very slow.
“It’s dead, like, there’s not a soul here. The highway is empty. I’ve had one person come in the shop today and it was a local person.”
Before the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge was constructed in 1963, the only way to access Hatteras Island was by plane or boat. The span –named after a North Carolina Congressman -was supposed to last only 30 years because of the harsh coastal environment where it was built. But the 2.7 mile bridge has survived a half a century. Because of its age and heavy use, the bridge has fallen into disrepair. According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, a recent bridge inspection gave the Bonner Bridge a sufficiency rating of four out of 100. On Monday, after last week’s bridge inspections, DOT officials decided to close the 50 year old Bonner bridge. North Carolina Department of Transportation Division One Engineer Jerry Jennings says routine radar scans showed that high currents have eroded sand around Bent 166, one of the southern support piers for the bridge.
“over the last several weeks, we’ve been watching this area and it moved, the scour moved much more rapidly that what we’ve seen in other places on this bridge and it reached the point that we felt it needed to be closed because it was unsafe.”
On Wednesday, a $1.6 million contract was awarded to Carolina Bridge Company of Orangeburg, S.C. for the emergency repairs. 10 to 12 feet of protective material around the piling to reinforce the area.
“The repairs will consist of something called concrete A-jacks. They’re similar to the types of jacks you played with as a kid but these are about four feet tall and they’re concrete. They’re interlocked together and placed around the perimeter of the area that is scoured. And inside that, we’ll place large sandbags throughout the area and around the pilings that are in question. And then we’ll go back with two more layers of the a-jacks and the sandbags, concurrently.”
Jennings says a dredging company currently working to clear the Oregon Inlet has agreed to pump sand from their dredging location to where the scouring problem is located. At this point, there’s no timeframe on when repairs will be complete. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency at the Bonner Bridge, which will speed repairs because the state won’t have to get permits that it normally would. According to the Associated Press, the designation also allows the state to seek federal funding assistance. While the bridge is closed, the North Carolina Ferry Division is providing an emergency route open to all motorists between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe free of tolls. The routes were activated Tuesday, but went into full operation on Wednesday. Communications Officer for the Ferry Division Tim Hass.
“We had an initial crush on Tuesday night obviously when people first found out the bridge was closed. But since then, it’s kind of leveled off and usually, people arrive on time, if they don’t get on the very next ferry, they’ll get on the one after that. So, it’s heavy traffic, but it’s manageable.”
Each day, the emergency ferry route is running full loads of about 760 cars per day. Hass says they’re running at maximum capacity.
“we are always monitoring traffic flow, we have the capacity if needed to add runs. But right now, we seem to have the right amount of runs to keep running full ferries and to get everyone where they need to go.”
The emergency repairs to the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge are only a quick fix. In 2011, a $215 million contract was awarded to build a new span parallel to the aging Bonner bridge. But before construction can begin, a lawsuit filed in July 2011 by the Southern Environmental Law Center must be resolved. DOT Secretary Tony Tata says efforts to block construction of the replacement bridge are to blame for the current problems. I’m Jared Brumbaugh.