and triumphant this evening when Highway 12 reopened between
Rodanthe and Oregon Inlet for the first time since Hurricane Irene
severed this section of road on Aug. 27.
In 44 days, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and several
subcontractors repaired two major sections of highway north of
Rodanthe. The section at Mirlo Beach had a small inlet which
filled. Five miles north was a much larger inlet and multiple
breaches which required a temporary bridge to span much of the area.
According to Pablo Hernandez, DOT’s chief engineer on the site, “It
took 15,000 man hours in 44 days to do this. That’s
eight men working for one full year.”
Travel on and off Hatteras Island has been possible only by ferry
system since the hurricane, which hampered everything from supply
deliveries to people trying to vacation on the island.
At 6 p.m., all the hardships were forgiven and forgotten as cars and
trucks lined up at the barricades either waiting to leave the island or
to drive onto it. The line of vehicles was at least a mile in
Jubilant faces lit up the graying skies as cars, trucks, campers, and
trailers drove over the narrow little bridge on Pea Island.
People were beeping their horns, giving the thumb’s up, and waving
wildly at the news crews, bridge workers and each other in celebration
of the grand opening. Passengers were snapping as many
and filming as much video as the news people standing along side the
There was an equal number of North Carolina and out-of-state tags using
the bridge. Georgia, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Virginia,
Maryland, New Jersey, Florida, and Quebec were some of the first cars
coming onto the island.
There was a longer line of vehicles going south than heading off
Hatteras Island. But, then again, there were some
who drove across the New New Inlet only to do a U-turn and come back
across the bridge minutes later.
Heavy equipment used to repair the road was part of the crowd of
vehicles heading off the island.
It was a buzzer beater to get Highway 12 opened on Monday evening,
which was one day earlier than predicted by NCDOT’s Division I
Engineer, Jerry Jennings. However, DOT announced midday
via news releases, Facebook, and Twitter that the road would open
This was a much anticipated moment for islanders, visitors, and road
workers who had been waiting for the word for weeks.
At 4 p.m., asphalt was still being delivered from Nags Head to Mirlo
Beach to finish this part of the road. Hot asphalt was
spread, and flattened quickly as time ticked on. The crew
at a feverish pitch to make the road smooth for the deadline.
Even then, there were still plenty of finishing touches undone on the
At 5:15 p.m., the paint truck arrived to stripe the road that wasn’t
finished. Reflectors needed to be installed into the asphalt
before the road opened.
New road signs were quickly installed warning of new speed limits and
changes in traffic patterns.
Equipment from both work areas was being loaded up and moved off the
island. Several areas that had been used as work or staging
for the last several weeks were suddenly devoid of machinery and
In the waning moments before Highway 12 reopened, several NCDOT
supervisors along with Jerry Jennings, Pablo Hernandez, and Dare County
Commission Chairman, Warren Judge, met with several news agencies,
including TV crews from Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
Reporters were taken across the new bridge and were given a moment to
take pictures and videos and to ask questions of the DOT.
This was a moment of glory for the guys who worked so hard to make it
happen in such a short period of time. It took almost nine
to be able to drive to Hatteras village after an inlet was cut by
Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
The magnitude of this damage was far greater this time, and travel was
restored in fewer than seven weeks.
Pablo Hernandez has been involved with this repair and rebuilding
project everyday since Aug. 31. He said the goal was to get
done in a month, admittedly a very tall order. Construction
didn’t even begin until after Labor Day.
Every phase of the project moved at a highly accelerated
There were a lot of things that had to come together and crews were
working off a set of plans that was constantly changing, says Hernandez.
Then there were the complications. The plans, which were
drawn up, didn’t always work out in the field.
Another big problem was the weather, which worked against the road and
bridge construction for weeks. Nor’easters, big waves from
Hurricane Katia, record rainfall, lightning, and above average lunar
tides all took a turn at undermining the project. The
moving and shifting of the coastline made it difficult to keep to a
“Weather! Water! Mosquitoes! I was so sick of being wet,”
Hernandez, who finally resorted to always having a change of clothing
Even with the road now passable, he is worried about the new weather
event as a low pressure system moves into the area Tuesday and
“We don’t know how the inlet is going to react to the wave action and
persistent rain,” says Hernandez.
But, that’s tomorrow. Today was a glorious day for the
which is still in the early stages of recovery from a devastating
hurricane. With our only road on and off the island back in
piece, life is one more step closer to being normal.
Driving back to Rodanthe an hour after the bridge opened, it was like
nothing had happened.
The lines of vehicles were gone and there wasn’t a single piece of
heavy machinery or a yellow DOT truck.
There was only a smooth new piece of asphalt running alongside some
new, tall sand dunes with straight painted lines and tiny reflectors in
the road that mirrored the car’s headlights