Basnight urges Obama to end
standstill’ on Bonner bridge replacement
By IRENE NOLAN
a letter sent this week, Marc Basnight, the powerful President pro
Tempore of the state Senate and a Manteo Democrat, urged President
Barack Obama to end the ‘bureaucratic” standstill”
that has stalled the replacement of the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
over Oregon Inlet.
He called the delay in moving ahead with the bridge replacement
“a shocking matter of safety and security” and pleaded with
the President “to right this wrong that has wasted million of
dollars and infinite red tape” over the years.
Basnight told Obama that “the only person who can resolve it is you.”
The saga of replacing the 47 year-old-bridge, which was opened in 1963
and now has a safety rating of two out of 100, has gone on for almost
20 years. Various options have been debated and various groups have
studied the issues of replacing the bridge and dealing with ocean
overwash on the only highway on this dynamic barrier island.
Environmentalists prefer a 17-mile bridge that would bypass Pea Island
and come into Hatteras at Rodanthe. State and local officials
have said they don’t have the money to build that bridge and
others have raised safety issues about it.
The state Department of Transportation settled on a short bridge
parallel to the existing bridge with a series of shorter bridges at the
areas of ocean overwash along Highway 12 in Pea Island National
A record of decision on building the short bridge and addressing the
problems with overwash on Pea Island as needed in the future was
expected this month.
However, the decision was delayed for yet another in a never ending
series of environmental studies.
The record of decision is now postponed until at least June and
construction on a bridge will not begin until probably this time next
year – at the earliest.
“Imagine for a moment a busload of school children traveling
across the bridge,” Basnight wrote Obama. “When the bus
reaches the apex of the bridge’s 3.3-mile span, the road
collapses, sending the bus and all of the children into the water
He noted that “while this image is horrific, it is indeed
possible.” And he cited the collapse of the I-35 bridge in
Milwaukee several years ago that killed a dozen people.
Basnight said that such a tragedy here is avoidable “if the
federal government acts now to remove all further obstacles and delays,
so that construction may finally begin.”
Basnight charged that the state continues to face unnecessary delays
from “a government that is more worried about the litigious
threats of out-of-state environmental groups than about the public
safety and economic well-being of the millions of motorists who cross
the bridge every year.
In his letter, Basnight noted that funding is already set aside for the
bridge and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers already support the alternative that is preferred by
“Yet federal highway attorneys have slowed down the process yet again,”
“It is far past time to take action,” Basnight said.
“I would urge you to ask Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and their respective agencies to
accept the design cleared by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers
and allow the construction to begin as soon as possible.
information on the struggle to replace the Bonner Bridge and feedback
from residents and visitors is available in The Island Free Press
Archives. Scroll down the front page to Archives, click on
bar, and google Bonner Bridge.)
here to read the text of Sen. Marc Basnight’s letter to President Obama