June 27, 2012
DOT plans a permanent bridge at Pea Island, but
long-term fix for Rodanthe not decided
By CATHERINE KOZAK
planners most likely will replace the temporary bridge over the Highway
12 breach in Pea Island with a permanent one at the same location, but
it will still be months before the long-term fix is chosen for the
highway breach in Rodanthe.
Massive sound tide from Hurricane Irene in August tore a jagged inlet
through the road 6 miles south of Oregon Inlet and destroyed a huge
section of roadbed between the S-curves and Mirlo Beach.
After numerous meetings with teams of agency representatives and
coastal scientists, the state Department of Transportation
“conceptually” chose the alternative at Pea Island that will stay
within the existing easement, state Department of Transportation
project planning engineer Beth Smyre said this week.
Smyre said that the agency is still responding to some comments from
the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies about the amount of
analysis done at the site and expects the alternative to be officially
announced at the end of July.
The alternative in Rodanthe, however, won’t be decided until later this year, she said.
“What we’re trying to do,” she said, “is move ahead with Pea Island first.”
The new bridge, built adjacent to the temporary military bridge built
after the storm, will be longer and higher than originally proposed
---- about 2 miles in length and 25 feet in the air --- and will be
designed similar to the replacement bridge planned over Oregon Inlet.
With a cost estimate of $100 million, DOT is in the process of
incorporating the project proposal in the most recent Transportation
Improvement Plan, she said. The hope is to have a contract let by
late December or early January.
As Phase II of the project to replace the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, the
long-term solutions were pushed up in the plan because of the hurricane
damage. Construction of a parallel bridge to replace Bonner Bridge,
meanwhile, is expected to start by early January, Smyre said, depending
on when the permits are issued.
Beach nourishment had originally been included in the proposed
long-term alternatives at both breach locations, but was dropped by DOT
in December because of the high cost, geological characteristics, and
lack of suitable sand sources. Other alternatives at Pea Island
that had been proposed were construction of a bridge to the west of the
breach, or moving the road to the west.
With beach nourishment eliminated, two options remain for Rodanthe: an
elevated bridge within the existing right of way, or a 2.5-mile span
that curves out into Pamlico Sound and ties in south of Mirlo Beach.
But in a DOT report published this month on a “peer exchange” panel
meeting, coastal experts take a dim view of the elevated bridge.
The panel of eight coastal scientists and engineers met last October
with 23 representatives of DOT and other agencies to discuss the
“The panel agreed that a bridge within the existing N.C. 12
easement/right of way is not the best long-term solution at the
Rodanthe breach site because of the panel’s concerns that the high
shoreline erosion rate in this area could be challenging,” the report
said. “The panel was concerned that the high erosion rate would
ultimately result in the structure being in the ocean a notable
distance from shore.”
But the panel agreed, the report continued, that a bridge built in the
sound, west of the southern end of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
and the northern end of Rodanthe “would be less vulnerable to potential
future changes in Hatteras Island resulting from shoreline erosion and
The geology of the island between S-Curves and the Rodanthe pier makes
the area one of the most vulnerable on the Outer Banks to future inlet
formation, the panel said. If an inlet were created, either from
storm-driven ocean waves or sound tide, it would tend to migrate south
like Oregon Inlet.
Property owners in Mirlo Beach, a subdivision on the north end of
Rodanthe, have mixed feelings about the sound bridge, said Wes
Hutchinson, vice-president of the Mirlo Beach Homeowners’ Association,
depending on whether they have soundfront or oceanfront property.
But still, no one is happy about the prospect of a bridge in the ocean,
an inevitability of the right of way alternative.
“That bridge would be on the beach and in the surf rapidly,” he said. “That bridge I think would destroy Rodanthe.
“The 2.5-mile bridge that goes out into the sound ---in some ways that
may be better,” he said. “At least there will a beach there.”
Mirlo Beach was slammed by sound tide during Irene and suffered severe
damage, partly because DOT’s sandbags along the ocean redirected the
The association and seven property owners who had damages ranging from
$30,000 to $70,000 each -- not including their interiors -- have been
considering taking legal action against DOT, said association president
But even if a lawyer agreed to do a lawsuit on a contingency basis, there would still be considerable cost, he said.
“It comes down to how much money do we want to continue to spend on
this?” Meyer said. “I get the sense from some homeowners, ‘It’s done.
Let’s move on.’”
Meyer said that the association spent about $180,000 to replace and
repair damage to the road and other infrastructure, which was covered
by homeowners’ fees and lot assessments. As a consequence, many feel
“It’s probably not fair to put that burden on the homeowners’
association,” he said. “I hate to give up, but it’s like pouring money
into a hole.”
Hutchinson said he understands why everyone in Mirlo feels exhausted,
emotionally and financially. Yet, not taking action does not resolve
“My concern is the next time there’s soundside flooding,” he said, “it’ll happen all over again.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To see the Peer Exchange report, visit: http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/bonnerbridgerepairs/download/PrExchngeFinalRprt_Jun2012.pdf