Representatives from the North Carolina Department of Transportation met with the media this morning to provide an update on the progress on the new Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.
The project has been moving quickly since the groundbreaking last March, and the progress has been quite noticeable to travelers along Highway 12.
At today’s press conference, a small group of media representatives heard comments from Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson, NCDOT Division Engineer Jerry Jennings, NCDOT board member Malcolm K. Fearing, and Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard.
The speakers provided a general status update and also addressed questions of how Hurricane Matthew had affected the project.
“The purpose today is to keep everyone informed on where we are,” said Jerry Jennings, “… [and] after some down time after Hurricane Matthew, we are back on track.”
During Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 9, two barges that were part of the project came loose from their mooring site and were moved by the wind and storm surge about 30 miles south to Avon. One came ashore in front of houses in north Avon and the other between the village and Canadian Hole. The runaway barges were moved back to the construction site early last week.
Pablo Hernandez, the resident engineer for the NCDOT and the project manager for the Bonner project, said that though it was too early to tell, Matthew-related delays were fairly unlikely.
“We’re still on track. We have a lot of time to assess what the effects were [from Matthew],” said Hernandez. “We’re still on schedule, and still have about two years to go… [That] gives us a lot of time to assess the impact, and for the contractor to make up time if he needs it.”
The new Bonner Bridge is slated to be finished by November 2018. The old Bonner Bridge will then be demolished by September 2019.
The bridge was designed and is being constructed in five different zones, and construction is underway at the south-end approach, the north-end approach, and within the central navigational spans. Once the north and south approaches are completed, work will begin on the sections that will connect each end with the navigation zone — also known as the high rise. The three sections will eventually “meet up” as workers at the northern and southern approaches steadily work their way towards the middle section.
The pilings — or the vertical supports that form part of the bridge foundation — are being installed at the middle of the bridge, which will be the highest portion of the bridge, and which will include seven navigational spans to provide more options for boat traffic. This high-rise portion of the new bridge will be 3,500 feet long and each span will average about 300’ feet in width. Comparatively, the existing bridge provides for only one navigational span with an opening of 130 feet.
To date, 98 pilings have been driven, and 10 bents, or piers, are nearly completed. The bridge will have a total of 673 pilings. Laid end to end, they would stretch for a total of 16.5 miles — a little longer than the distance between Oregon Inlet Fishing Center and Rodanthe.
“These pilings are so much deeper than the other pilings were, and [they have a] 100-year lifespan,” said Fearing at the press conference.
On the north end of the project, a work trestle is taking shape that will allow construction crews to work over the wetlands and shallow waters in this area. On the south end of the project, a loading dock has been built, traffic has been shifted, and pilings are being installed where the bridge and highway will connect.
Hernandez estimated that the project was about 30 percent complete, including both the design package and the construction, and about 15 percent complete along in terms of the construction alone.
The Bonner Bridge project actually encompasses the building of three bridges – the Bonner Bridge replacement, the replacement temporary bridge over Pea Island Inlet, and a new bridge north of Rodanthe.
The temporary replacement of the “Lego” bridge over the inlet created by Hurricane Irene in 2011 is also underway and scheduled to be completed next year.
Jennings provided an update on the final component of the three-bridge project – the new “jug-handle” bridge around the S-curves and north Rodanthe. He said the design-build team selection has been underway, and three teams have been short-listed. The final selection of the design-build team will be made next week. In addition, he said, the environmental documents are being finalized.
Overall, the progress has remained steady despite potential Matthew setbacks, and although several speakers noted that “there’s still a lot of time to go,” the forward momentum of the project itself was reason for celebration.
“I’m just thrilled – I’m thrilled for all of us, with three bridge projects going on [at once]” said Fearing when asked about the progress of the bridge so far. “…Some say we’re not getting much attention down here, but I’d say we’re getting more attention than we have in a decade.”
“We’re extremely excited about the bridge, and seeing the progress moving along on schedule,” said Woodard. “Who would have thought two years ago we’d be talking about three bridges being built? We’re certainly grateful for what NCDOT does for us down here. They are our lifeline.”