At long last, a new
Bonner Bridge will be built
IRENE NOLAN and CATHERINE KOZAK
After a quarter
century of planning, studies, bickering, and finally legal challenges
from environmental groups, the decrepit 2.7-mile Herbert C. Bonner
Bridge over Oregon Inlet will be replaced with a new parallel span.
The announcement came in a news release about 1:30 this afternoon that
the North Carolina Department of Transportation, along with the state
Department of Environment and the Federal Highway Administration, had
reached a settlement with Defenders of Wildlife and the National
Wildlife Refuge Association, represented by the Southern Environmental
The settlement comes
after nine months of negotiations and ends a
lawsuit the environmental groups filed in July 2011 to stop
NCDOT's plan, announced in a 2010 Record of Decision, to replace the
bridge with a parallel span and address "hotspots" along Highway 12 on
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in segments as needed at a later
date. The groups favored a long, 17.5-mile bridge, which would bypass
the refuge entirely and that DOT said it did not have the funds to
In exchange for dropping their lawsuit, the environmental groups will
get an agreement from DOT to consider -- and probably build -- bridges
out in the Pamlico Sound to bypass at least seven miles of the southern
end of the Pea Island refuge, which they call a "national
Three hours after the news release, a bevy of state and local officials
-- led by Gov. Pat McCrory -- and representatives from the
environmental groups spoke at a press conference to celebrate the
occasion. They gathered on a narrow, sandy beach on the edge of
the inlet under the broiling sun in record heat, and when the speaking
was over, several of the participants celebrated by wading barefoot in
We’ve come to a
solution, and that’s what it’s all about.”
“We’ve come to a lot
of meetings down here," McCrory told the small
crowd that had gathered. "We’ve come to a conclusion.
The 52-year-old Bonner Bridge, opened in 1963, was at least 20 years
past its useful lifespan. Planning to replace it
started in about
1990, according to NCDOT, and the first environmental study on a
replacement was completed in 1993. But the plans were continually
mired down in bureaucracy and environmental questions.
"Keeping this bridge standing has been no easy task," DOT Secretary
Tony Tata, said today. And, indeed, the department has poured millions
of dollars into repairs over the past several decades
However, Tata said,
that this morning the contractor on the Bonner Bridge was told "to
DOT awarded a $215.54 million contract to the design-build team of PCL
Civil Constructors Inc. and HDR Engineering Inc. of the Carolinas in
July 2011, just weeks after the environmental groups filed their
lawsuit in federal court. Construction was never started because of the
The new bridge will cost more than $215 million, but state officials
were not sure how much more yesterday. The 10-year transportation
plan recently released by the Board of Transportation includes $435
million for the Bonner Bridge replacement.
The new bridge, the Secretary said, will take about three years to
Also, this morning, Tata said that DOT cancelled a $79-million contract
with Parsons Construction Group to build a 2.4-mile permanent bridge to
replace a temporary structure at Pea Island Inlet, which was opened by
Hurricane Irene in 2011.
Tata said that $3.9
million had been paid so far to Parsons, and the
cost for tearing down what has been started "will be determined later."
DOT's legal counsel said the payments to Parsons were about $23,000 a
day since work was stopped on Sept. 10.
N.C. Senate and House of Representatives, Tata said, are happy with the
agreement, though the costs of the revamped project and the settlement
are not known yet.
said that DOT intends to get a new temporary bridge up at the site "as
soon as possible" to replace the small bridge erected there quickly
after the hurricane.
The terms of the settlement allow DOT to build an interim bridge over
the inlet, which is now dry but probably only temporarily, that is
located in the existing easement, is 15 feet above the mean high water,
has pile bents, and is no more than 3,000 feet long -- a bit more than
a 1/2 mile.
Meanwhile, DOT will study long-term solutions to the Pea Island Inlet
area that will include a bridge out into the Pamlico Sound that would
bypass that part of the refuge. According to the settlement
terms, if DOT should select that alternative, the environmental
groups agree not to file a lawsuit.
The environmental groups also agreed not to file a lawsuit if DOT
chooses a bridge out into the Pamlico Sound as its preferred
alternative for a long-term solution to the erosion at the S-curves and
Mirlo Beach in North Rodanthe.
The Rodanthe bridge is already on the drawing board. DOT
conducted a series of public meetings in early 2014 but never chose an
alternative. On Wednesday, a Merger Team, comprised of state and
federal resource and regulatory agencies, will meet to take up the
alternative for north Rodanthe.
DOT legal counsel Shelly Blake said that the Rodanthe bridge has been
studied for about two years and that work on it could get started by
next March or April.
If the bridge into
the Pamlico Sound at Rodanthe is built and then is merged with a bridge
that would bypass Pea Island Inlet area, the end result would be
bridging seven miles in southern Pea Island.
There is no timetable on permitting and studying a permanent solution
at Pea Island Inlet, but that is likely to take longer than the
temporary bridge or permanent bridge north of Rodanthe.
"The settlement will provide us more than a half mile of stability at
Irene Inlet," Beth Midgett, chairperson on the county's Citizen's
Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge, said this evening. "And,
finally after all these years, there will be a solution at the
Midgett called the
settlement "a historic day" for Hatteras Island.
"We've passed a huge hurdle," she said. "The Bonner Bridge is
going to be built. There's no doubt. We can finally move forward
with our lives."
She also noted that the bridge is a key piece of infrastructure not
only for those who are traveling to and from Hatteras Island but also
for those who depend on the power and data lines that travel alongside
The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative was allowed as a
defendant-intervenor in the lawsuit brought by the environmental groups
because of the transmission lines that provide power to the
island. Studies showed that attaching cables to a 17.5-mile
bridge would be prohibitively expensive.
announcement is great news for Cape Hatteras
Electric Cooperative and its members," general manager Susan
Flythe said this evening. "CHEC signed off on this settlement because
it will allow the cooperative to replace the aging transmission cable
attached to the Bonner Bridge. In a recent study ,the cooperative
investigated several options for providing electric power to Hatteras
Island, and attaching a cable to the new bridge is by far the least
just recently completed a westward relocation and hardening of the
transmission line through the "S-curves" area.
attorney Derb Carter and Julie Youngman both attended today's news
conference at Oregon Inlet.
"We view this as a win-win," Carter told the assembled group.
Later, Youngman said SELC did not anticipate any glitches in
implementing the settlement.
She said that once
DOT accomplished five or six tasks -- such as ending
work on the permanent Pea Island bridge -- "we will dismiss the
"Ideally it would have been done in one fell swoop -- the long bridge
concept -- but the settlement agreement describes the path to doing it
Dennis Stewart, biologist for the Pea Island refuge, also attended
today's press conference.
Ironically, on Feb. 14, 2012 just after Hurricane Irene -- he remembers
the exact date -- he proposed to the Merger Team that the state
consider building a 7-mile bridge out into Pamlico Sound from Pea
Island Inlet to Rodanthe.
“I brought it up as kind of food for thought,” he said. DOT did
consider it, but it was not considered as a final alternative.”
The Governor said that construction of the new bridge will provide
safety for the public and support the economy. “So safety and jobs are
two accomplishments we’re making today.”
McCrory lauded the “sincere and very worthwhile” negotiations between
parties that resulted in the agreement that protected the public and
the natural environment.
“This is the fine balance we continue to want to achieve. That’s
extremely important for the Outer Banks.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read the entire Settlement Agreement.