October 29, 2012

Preliminary Bonner Bridge Inspection Reveals No Storm Damage
by Catherine Kozak

Closed as a precaution during Hurricane Sandy, the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge has suffered no apparent damage to its structure, at least the part that is visible above water. 

“The visual inspection was fine,” Jeff Odom, state Department of Transportation bridge inspection supervisor said, after inspecting the Oregon Inlet bridge Monday afternoon.

A piece of aluminum fabric had come off a portion of the concrete rail, he said, but that is only a cosmetic concern.

Odom said that divers will use sonar to look for any scouring at the pilings underneath the bridge as well as other potential structural issues as soon as the weather allows.

But he said that type of inspection is nothing unusual. In fact, he said it is routine to check for scour --- sand around piles scooped out by currents --- under the Bonner Bridge after any significant storm because of its location in treacherous Oregon Inlet.

“That’s normal for that bridge,” Odom said. “It really hasn’t done anything abnormal at all.”

Piled-up sand on the road on the south end of the bridge, he said, prevented him from driving further south on N.C. 12 to inspect the temporary truss bridge over the new inlet in Pea Island that was opened up last August during Hurricane Irene.

A DOT road crew on Sunday had reported seeing scouring around the south end of the bridge, he said, but the extent of it could not be determined.

Odom said the truss bridge’s structure is not the concern ---it’s built on concrete pilings – as much as the risk of it washing away if it is undermined.

As soon as a bulldozer can be driven over Bonner Bridge, Odom said, the sand will be cleared off the road so he can get to the temporary bridge to inspect it.

In a press release issued on Sunday, DOT announced that the Bonner Bridge was closed that evening after DOT inspectors determined that the bridge was “unsafe for traffic at this time.”

But Odom said there was no specific problem that prompted the closure, other than the reality of the storm’s destructive potential and the inlet’s powerful currents. 

“We want to make sure that everything is alright before we let anybody cross,” he said.

Built in 1963, the Bonner Bridge is about 20 years overdue for replacement. A construction project for the new bridge began this month, and the DOT says that regular inspections and repairs have kept the current bridge safe.

Flooding and overwash from Sandy have forced closures on N.C 12 from the Oregon Inlet bridge to Rodanthe. Parts of the highway are also impassable north of Buxton, and in Frisco, Hatteras and Ocracoke.  Equipment and crews will assess the road damage after the storm passes and the water recedes, the press release said.

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