The other day, a colleague was asking me about the projected opening date of the new Jug Handle Bridge, and casually asked how long we had been covering the “New Bridges” story. I thought about it for a minute, and the answer surprised us both – about 31 years.
And when you think about it, the Outer Banks always has a lot of projects that slowly come to fruition over the course of years or even decades, as red tape is navigated, contractors and plans are considered, funding is secured, and work eventually commences. It took years for the Salvo Community Cemetery to be brought back to life, (thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team of volunteers), and even seemingly simple projects – like a new paved pathway through Hatteras village – can take 15 years to go from idea to actuality.
Right now is an especially unique time for our islands. We are at the final stages of some big projects, while new ones are about to steal the spotlight. Some great new additions to our landscape, (like the aforementioned Hatteras pathway or the Bonner Pier), have opened in recent months, while other potential projects are just starting to transition from concept to detailed plan, with the help of public feedback.
I don’t know about you, but with all the construction tape and traffic cones, I have a hard time keeping up with what’s being done and where, and how all of these big projects are progressing.
So for your peace of mind and mine, here’s a round-up of the current big projects that are ongoing throughout our islands, and what to expect in the weeks, months, and possible years to come.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Restoration
Status: In Public Comment phase until October 17
The lighthouse restoration project has been in the works for years, (since around 2014), and the National Park Service (NPS) has already received funding for the upcoming repairs and enhancements.
Layers of interior paint and debris were removed from the interior of the lighthouse over the summer of 2021, and now that the historic structure is essentially a “clean slate,” the next steps can be considered and determined. These potential steps include an overhaul of the ragged terrain bordering the lighthouse, extensive repairs to the metalwork and other inherent features, and the replacement of the famous beacon with either the original 1854 Fresnel lens, (which is currently housed at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village), or an identical-looking replica.
Currently, these initiatives are being considered in a 30-day public comment period, which extends from September 17 to October 17. Once the final restoration plan is decided upon, work will likely begin in the fall of 2022.
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse Restoration
Status: Stay tuned, because we are just getting started…
Built in 1823, the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse in North Carolina, and the second oldest lighthouse still in service in the United States. The 1.1-acre site where the lighthouse stands is also home to a collection of historic buildings, including the original 1800s keeper’s quarters – a five-room dwelling that was expanded to a double dwelling in 1929.
Unfortunately, all of these structures are at risk. During Hurricane Dorian in 2019, water poured through the Ocracoke Light Station site, causing 12-18 inches of flooding within the double keeper’s quarters alone. With the majority of the lighthouse property already classified as a wetland, and .25 to 1.1 m of additional sea-level rise predicted by NOAA in the next 30 years, elevating or moving the historic structures will eventually be necessary in order to keep them intact and above water.
This project first popped onto the public’s radar in May of 2021, when two virtual meetings were held to solicit public feedback on a handful of preliminary options. These options include repairing the existing buildings, repairing AND elevating the existing buildings, or re
locating the historic structures, including the lighthouse itself.
Though there has not been a lot of movement on the project since the initial late-spring comment period, expect the possible elevation or relocation of the Ocracoke Lighthouse to be a big story in the not-so-distant future.
Jug Handle Bridge
Status: Opening in early 2022
The Jug Handle Bridge is 88% complete as of September 2, with a projected opening date of early 2022, per a September update from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT.)
Operations at the southern end of the project stopped on August 14, and the two work trestles met two weeks later on August 31, 2021.
Roadway work at the south end of the project should resume in October or November of 2021, however, and travelers along N.C. Highway 12 should expect lane closures or other work zone traffic delays.
While the bridge is expected to be complete by early 2022, traffic will start to be shifted onto the new structure in February or March. Once complete, the Jug Handle Bridge will connect the southern portion of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to northern Rodanthe, bypassing the S-Turns section of N.C. Highway 12, which is highly susceptible to breaches and ocean overwash during storms.
Updates on the status of the Jug Handle Bridge, as well as planned construction activities in the coming month, are available online at https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/nc-12-rodanthe/Pages/planned-construction.aspx.
Status: Open as of October 1
The Bonner Pier opened to the public at 8:00 a.m. on October 1, and dozens of visitors stopped by throughout the day to be among the first to fish off the pier.
The 1,046’ ft. concrete structure is a remaining section of the former 1963 Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which was intentionally left intact to serve as an observation and fishing pier. The original yellow double lines and patchwork of past repairs remain on the former roadway, but the bridge section has been transformed to a pier with the addition of new railings, trash receptacles, signage, and an interpretive display at the entrance explaining the site’s rules and guidelines.
There is no fee to visit the pier, and the pier is currently open 24 hours a day. (Based on social media photos from the past two weeks, it’s a heck of a great spot to go fishing, too!)
The site includes port-a-potties, a dumpster, and ample parking, although visitors should watch for continued construction activity and signage that indicates closed areas. Rules for using the new pier can be found online at Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s Bonner Bridge Pier webpage.
Hatteras Village Pathway
Status: Nearly complete; Open throughout the village
The Hatteras Village Pathway is nearing completion, with just a few minor items remaining, such as the final clean-up of miscellaneous construction materials and adding crosswalk markings.
The project includes a multi-use paved pathway that extends from the heart of Hatteras village to the northern town borders, with a loop around Eagle Pass Road. The final cleanup, backfill, and miscellaneous punch-list items are expected to wrap up in the next two weeks, which will mark the end of a project that has been in the works for roughly 15 years.
A similar 7-6 mile long pathway for Buxton and Frisco is still in the process of being considered, although there has been little movement since the plans for the project were first unveiled to the public in March of 2019.
Status: Complete, but lane closures expected in October for miscellaneous punch-list items
Though the Basnight Bridge over Oregon Inlet is wide open and has been since February of 2019, October travelers may experience some delays due to daytime lane closures.
During the lane closures, workers will complete “punch list” items on the bridge, including reinforcing the epoxy seal that protects against corrosion, and installing platforms that will hold solar panels and batteries for navigation lights and traffic cameras. Workers will also install a small weather station on the bridge that will be able to alert emergency officials to high wind conditions.
Motorists should be aware of the possibility of daytime lane closures at any time from 7 a.m. Mondays through 3 p.m. Fridays, but one lane of traffic will be open at all times.
Removal of the Ocean Pursuit
The Ocean Pursuit has become an odd landmark of sorts, and is still an ever-present fixture on the edge of the shoreline bordering northern Oregon Inlet, but this will eventually change.
The derelict vessel, which wrecked in March of 2020 and has been stationed on the Bodie Island beach ever since, is in the early stages of being removed, per an update from Cape Hatteras National Seashore sources. Plans are in the works to hire a contractor to remove the vessel, and more information on the project will be released in the coming months.
Status: Expected to be complete in January 2022
A project to improve the Frisco Bathhouse and Beach Access site just south of Frisco village has been making big strides since initially launching on September 15, and the 120-day project is expected to be completed by mid-January of 2022.
The project entails a new restroom facility, an additional 26 parking spaces, a new asphalt overlay for the parking area, new outdoor showers, and many other improvements to the southern Frisco beach access site, which is one of the most popular public beach accesses on Hatteras Island.
In the meantime, portable restrooms, temporary showers, and access to the beach boardwalk are all available to the public. 25 parking spaces at the south end of the parking area will also continue to be open for public use, except during the paving phase of the project.
Avon and Buxton Beach Nourishment
Status: Expected to begin in late spring of 2022
Avon Beach Nourishment was the hot topic of the spring of 2021, as the Dare County Board of Commissioners weighed in on whether to move forward with the project, which entailed the establishment of a special tax district and a corresponding new property tax for all Avon property owners.
The tax district was eventually approved in June of 2021, and the Avon Beach Nourishment project, (which will cover approximately 2.5 miles of oceanfront from Due East Rd. to the southern village borders), is expected to start rolling in the spring of 2022, and will take an estimated 90 days to complete. It will also correspond with a
Buxton Beach Nourishment maintenance project, which will re-nourish the shoreline that was previously addressed during an initial 2017 Beach Nourishment project.
For more information on all of the county’s upcoming beach nourishment projects, (and there are quite a few), visit the county’s Beach Nourishment page at https://www.darenc.com/departments/public-relations/beach-nourishment.
Finally, keep an eye out for many more new projects to come…
There are other projects in the works that will surely make an appearance in future headlines, too, like the new Dare County dredge, the opening of an oceanfront RV Park in Avon, and the continual challenges of dredging Hatteras Inlet.
This is all in addition to large-scale problems that aren’t going to go away anytime soon, like the future of N.C. Highway 12 in vulnerable and flooding-prone spots like northern Ocracoke Island or Pea Island.
We’ll continue to keep these ever-changing projects and issues on our radar, and will post progress updates whenever possible. Considering that it seems like a new project starts just as another big endeavor winds down, (or at least that has been the pattern over the past few years), expect to see continued changes in our island landscape for the foreseeable future, both manmade and otherwise.