December 3, 2013


DOT has closed Bonner Bridge
because of safety concerns

By IRENE NOLAN


To protect the traveling public, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has closed the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet on Highway 12 along the Outer Banks today because of immediate safety concerns.

As of early afternoon, some traffic was still being allowed to cross the bridge while DOT workers put message boards and closure signs in place.

As the word began to spread this afternoon, residents who had headed north this morning for doctor’s appointments and shopping were turning around and heading home and vendors, delivery truck drivers, and contractors who had come to the island were heading back north as quickly as they could.

Southbound traffic was stopped at 3 p.m. Northbound lanes closed at 3:48, and folks stranded on both sides of the bridge were unhappy and arguing with DOT officials and deputy sheriffs.

The emergency ferry route between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe will be operational on Wednesday morning, though a spokesman for division said there will be one ferry run tonight from each side.  More information is available on the North Carolina Ferry Division Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NCFerries.

Rumors were circulating late last week that the bridge was going to be closed and that the Ferry Division was putting emergency ferries in place.

After an inspection of the scouring on Friday, DOT announced on Saturday that the bridge needed immediate repairs but was safe for the traveling public and would remain open.

The news that the bridge would close immediately came out of the blue for most folks, who thought the structure has passed inspection for now.

News that the closure was imminent began spreading about mid-day today and was confirmed by a DOT media release that came out about 1:45.

According to the DOT, routine sonar scanning of the bridge identified scouring concerns, or areas where too much sand has eroded from the support structure of the bridge. As NCDOT crews continued to monitor these conditions, inspections revealed additional areas of concern, which led department officials to decide to close the bridge immediately for the safety of all residents and visitors of the area.

The bridge will remain closed until the department can bring in additional resources to inspect the bridge and make necessary repairs to fortify the structure. 

NCDOT has declared a state of emergency as a way of expediting the process and steps are already underway to begin repair work as soon as possible.
 
“Closing the Bonner Bridge is necessary to keep all travelers safe, but we know it will have a devastating effect on the people who live along and visit the Outer Banks,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “We will work to safely reopen this vital lifeline quickly, and hope to be able to begin construction on a new bridge as soon as possible.”
 
NCDOT is working closely with county leaders, emergency workers, and other officials to keep the public informed throughout the process.

Dare County manager Bobby Outten said this afternoon that county officials have been told that the closure may just be for a week or two, but the worst-case scenario is a four-month closure.
 
Ferry Division workers have already tested the emergency ferry ramps at Stumpy Point and Rodanthe, and the division is currently sending four 180-foot River-Class vessels to begin operating the emergency Hatteras Island route.

All tolls currently in place on the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter and Ocracoke-Cedar Island ferry routes will be waived for residents, emergency personnel, and vendors while the bridge is closed and the emergency ferry route is in operation.

The U.S. Coast Guard is also currently on standby.
 
“We expect the emergency ferry route to be up and running Wednesday morning,” said Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon. “We know the residents of Hatteras Island are depending on us to be their lifeline, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
 
At full capacity on a full schedule, the route can ferry 760 single cars a day, 380 from each side. A detailed emergency ferry route schedule will be available on the Ferry division website.
The announced schedule for the emergency ferry route is:

Departing from Stumpy Point: 5 a.m., 6:30, 8, 9:30, 11, 12:30p.m., 2, 3:30, 5, and 9:30 p.m.

Departing from Rodanthe: 6a.m., 7:30, 9, 10:30, Noon, 1:30 p.m., 3, 4:30, 6, and 7:30.

Any updates or changes will be posted on the Ferry division website.

Outten said Dare County officials will be working on some type of priority system for ferry passage.  He noted that there were many reasons for priority – including work, medical appointments, family emergencies, funerals, and delivery of much needed commodities – and that setting priority is never easy.

Replacing the Bridge

For decades, NCDOT has known the Bonner Bridge stands on borrowed time and needs to be replaced. NCDOT awarded a contract to a design-build team to replace the bridge in August 2011.  Design work began immediately and construction of the replacement bridge was originally set to begin in early 2013. All work is currently on hold following a series of legal challenges by the Southern Environmental law center on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association.
 
On Sept. 16, NCDOT received a favorable ruling in the federal lawsuit filed by the SELC when Judge Louise Flanagan issued a 42-page order denying all claims that NCDOT violated federal law when the department studied and selected the parallel bridge.
 
On Sept. 27, Judge Julian Mann III issued an order allowing NCDOT to intervene in the state action filed by the SELC against the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Coastal Management for issuing a Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permit to NCDOT. Legal staff is working to resolve the state action as quickly as possible.
 
On Oct. 1, the SELC appealed the federal judge’s ruling that would allow construction to begin on the bridge replacement project. The appeal added further delay in building a parallel bridge to replace the current bridge, which is already well beyond its expected 30-year life and in constant need of repair and maintenance to keep it safe for travel.
 
The documents relating to the state action, as well as the federal ruling are available on the Bonner Bridge Replacement webpage.
 
Next Steps

Once the CAMA permit challenge and the federal appeal are resolved, NCDOT will immediately move forward with construction of the new bridge.
 
Background

NCDOT has already spent more than $56 million in necessary repairs, inspection and maintenance on the 50-year-old bridge since beginning the process to replace it more than two decades ago. Two additional repair projects on the Bonner Bridge, which total $2 million, and are needed to keep this critical transportation corridor open, began this fall.
 
Read more about the history of the Bonner Bridge and challenges to building a new one.




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