Hurricane Irene Aftermath
October 7, 2011
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When Highway 12 reopens, travelers can expect delays for a few weeks


When Highway 12 reopens – six weeks after being shut down by damage from Hurricane Irene – it’s a good bet that there will be a steady stream of vehicles in both directions for days after travelers get the go-ahead.

Visitors have been counting down the days until they no longer have to come to the island via a long ferry ride from the mainland to Ocracoke and then another ferry to Hatteras.

And residents who have been island-bound for weeks are ready to head north for errands, shopping, medical appointments, and such – on a highway and not on the emergency ferries.

Don’t get us wrong.  We appreciate all the Ferry Division has done to keep us supplied and to get us to the mainland when we had to go.  But most islanders have tried to avoid the long trip by ferry from Rodanthe to Stumpy Point.

Jerry Jennings, North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Engineer, reiterated that the long-anticipated opening day will be Tuesday, Oct. 11, and perhaps earlier.

There is still “a lot of work to be done,” he said in a conference call with reporters today, but if the good weather cooperates, that work may be completed early.

Once the highway opens, Jennings said, travelers can expect lane closures and delays for two or three weeks while the work is completed.

Among the things that will need to be done, he said, are the final two layers of asphalt on portions of the road that had to be repaired, cleaning up, demobilization of equipment, and such details as grading the shoulders on the highway.

And he added that the temporary bridge over New New Inlet on Pea Island will have to be closed completely for several hours one night to complete asphalt work, since the bridge is too narrow allow for work while one lane remains open.

Jennings said that, except for the temporary bridge, travelers should find Highway 12 pretty much as they remember it before the storm.

The bridge is a two-lane metal Mabey Universal Bridge manufactured by Mabey Bridge Ltd. of Baltimore, Md.

It is about 660 feet long, and Jennings said the width is about 24 feet from rail to rail – a few feet narrower than the Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet.

The outside railing on the bridge, he said, will extend above the height of vehicles, which may make it feel more confining for some people.

There will be about a 6 to 8 foot elevation difference from the center span of the bridge to the normal water level in the inlet.

Jennings said engineers don’t expect problems in rough weather.  He noted the bridge sits on 75-foot pilings and has a tie-down system to anchor it to the foundation more securely than most bridges because of the storm surge potential.

The speed limit on the bridge will be 25 mph and there will be ample warning for motorists to slow down.  There will be no weight limit.

The total cost of all the work to repair Highway 12 at New New Inlet and at the S-curves north of Rodanthe and to install the bridge, Jennings said, will be $11 to $12 million. DOT has said the repairs will be paid for with FEMA funds.

The temporary bridge has a life expectancy of 10 or more years, Jennings said, but he added that DOT expects to have a long-term solution to the “hot spots” on Highway 12, including New New Inlet area and the S-curves, in fewer than five years.

The project, he said, was “challenging” and he handed out kudos to Carolina Bridge Co. and Barnhill and RPC contracting companies.

Construction crews were racing against time and worked around the clock in all kinds of weather to finish on time.

And if The Island Free Press Facebook page is any indication, visitors and islanders are ready to throw a party for the workers.

Once the highway reopens, the emergency ferries to Stumpy Point will stop regular operations.

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