If it feels like the construction of new bridges along Hatteras Island have been in the headlines for years, it’s because they have been.
March 8 marked the four-year anniversary of the new Bonner Bridge groundbreaking, and years later, work continues on finalizing little “punch list” items on the now-completed structure. Meanwhile, the Jug Handle Bridge becomes more a more visible addition to the local landscape, while the old Bonner Bridge steadily disappears from our island scenery.
So where are we on the three current bridge projects, and what can residents and visitors expect in terms of traffic delays and progress in the months to come?
Let’s take a closer look at the status of each of these NCDOT-orchestrated endeavors, which will continue to pop up in the headlines as 2020 rolls along.
First, an overview…
The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Bonner Bridge Replacement Project is technically begin completed in three phases. These phases include the construction of the “new” Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet, the Jug Handle Bridge which bypasses the S-Curves north of Rodanthe, and the Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge, which hovers above a section of Pea Island that was once a temporary inlet that formed after Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The Captain Richard Etheridge was completed in early 2018, and while the Bonner Bridge replacement officially opened to traffic in the spring of 2019, there are a still a few minor items to tackle before the bridge can officially be deemed “complete.”
The last phase of the Bonner Bridge Replacement project– namely, the Jug Handle Bridge – is the final bridge to be built, and is the lone bridge out of the three that is still actively under construction.
Jug Handle Bridge Update
Weather has always been an uncertain factor when it comes to determining a solid timeline for any major project on Hatteras Island, and the Jug Handle Bridge project is no exception.
At a recent update meeting in Rodanthe last week, NCDOT’s resident engineer for the project, Pablo Hernandez, stated that due to weather-related complications, progress on the Jug Handle Bridge had significantly slowed down since the last quarterly update on December 5.
In December, the bridge was roughly 24% complete, and three months later, that progress had only slightly increased to 28%.
Like so many hurdles to major projects on the island, the lower-than-expected progress boiled down to wind, rain, and unusual weather.
“Even though it’s been a mild temperature winter, it has not been a very kind winter in terms of wind, rain, and more wind,” said Hernandez at the meeting.
Another roadblock was encountered when the paving and earthworks contractor turned their attention to other projects throughout the state, as the mild temperatures made it easier to tackle projects both along the coastline, and on the mainland.
Typically, NCDOT starts shutting down any inland paving contracts in December or January, because they don’t want the contractor to pave when it’s below 35 degrees. But because the state rarely saw temperatures below freezing, the contractor was able to focus on other projects besides the Jug Handle Bridge.
Because of these circumstances, repaving will likely begin in earnest come April or May, and lane closures and work zones are expected in northern Rodanthe when this work begins. It should be noted, however, that daytime lane closures for all ongoing bridge projects are prohibited from June 15 until September 15, to accommodate the influx of summertime traffic.
Bonner Bridge Replacement, AKA, the Marc Basnight Bridge
The Bonner Bridge replacement has officially been open for more than a year, but there are a few finishing touches in the works that will require lane closures and work zones in the weeks to come.
These “punch list” items on the bridge project includes final touches to the bridge deck and railings, and paving the final asphalt layer on the roadway leading up to the bridge itself.
As such, travelers along N.C. Highway 12 should be aware of the possibility of daytime lane closures at any time from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, starting on March 9, 2020.
During the lane closures, contractors will use flaggers to control traffic, and will post appropriate warning signs. These lane closures will vary in length, but will typically be between a half-mile and one mile long, and one lane of traffic will be open at all times.
Daytime lane closures will halt from June 15 until September 15, but there is the possibility that they may pop up again during the fall of 2020 if any final work on the bridge remains.
Bonner Bridge Demolition
Demolition of the former Bonner Bridge, which began in the spring of 2019, passed the halfway point at the start of 2020, and per a recent update from NCDOT spokesperson Tim Hass, the demolition is approximately 69% complete as of early March.
Hass also reported in early 2020 that the contractor handling the demolition encountered a few hurdles along the way, which included shoaling along the ocean bar off the inlet, (which hindered the barges from carrying the discarded bridge material offshore), as well as underwater obstructions around the old bridge that slowed the removal of pilings.
Even so, as anyone driving across Oregon Inlet can attest, the project to remove the old Bonner Bridge steadily continues, and is still slated to be complete by mid-to-late 2020.
Not all of the original bridge will disappear, however. 1,000 feet of the structure on the northern end of Hatteras Island still remains, and will be converted into a public walkway and fishing pier that is expected to open in late fall 2020 at the earliest.
What comes next…
Going forward into the spring of 2020, the bottom line is that work zones and lane restrictions will be more likely in the weeks and months ahead.
So as the weather heats up and we inch closer to the summer season, allow for extra travel time if you’re heading up the beach. There may be delays at both the Jug Handle construction site, just north of Rodanthe, and along the new Bonner Bridge replacement across Oregon Inlet.
But the good news is that all lane closures will halt by the time June 15 arrives, and with just one last bridge to go before the three-phase project is complete, the official end of the years-long and multi-faceted Bonner Bridge Replacement Project is definitely on the horizon.