Video by Don Bowers
Governor Roy Cooper and a host of state and local community leaders cut the ribbon on the Marc Basnight Bridge over Oregon Inlet at a Tuesday afternoon event that drew a substantial crowd, despite the rainy weather from an approaching coastal storm.
“Let me just say, this is the perfect day for [this event],” said Gov. Cooper in his opening statement to the crowd. “It shows the resilience and determination of the people of the Outer Banks.”
The governor highlighted the importance of the Outer Banks to the state’s economy, and the potential boost to the tourism industry that the reliability of a new bridge could provide. “You are critically important to the economy of North Carolina, and I am proud as I go across the country to talk about the ‘Pearl of the State’ that is the Outer Banks,” he said. “I am grateful I am here today, with all of you, for this celebration.”
Gov. Cooper also touched on his personal and professional relationship with Basnight during his remarks, which was a theme echoed by multiple speakers at the ceremony.
“I know we are here today to name the bridge after Marc Basnight, but let me tell you, he didn’t care about that,” said the Governor. “He never cared about power for power’s sake… what he cared about was getting things done.”
While Basnight was honored throughout the event by friends and family members, multiple organizations and entities were thanked during the ceremony, including local and state government officials, the NCDOT, NPS, PCL Construction, and Hatteras Island’s own Bridge Moms.
“This magnificent bridge could not have happened without the Bridge Moms, and the people on Hatteras Island who rallied around this dream,” said Dare County Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard.
Natalie Kavanagh, who along with Beth Midgett founded and launched the Bridge Moms movement, also spoke at the event, outlining how the Bridge Moms came to fruition.
“About 10 years ago, I was sitting in a crowded room, waiting to give a public comment [on the need for a bridge replacement] to the DOT,” she said, noting her nerves at the time, which prompted her to ask the late County Commissioner Warren Judge for advice on how to address the room. “He said ‘just speak from your heart, and they will listen.’”
Kavanagh said that she took his advice, and started to talk about her fears of routinely driving across a bridge that was rated a 2 out of 100 while her young children were in the car. “My brilliant friend Beth Midgett watched the faces of the women in the room,” said Kavanagh. “[At that moment], Bridge Moms was born.’”
As multiple speakers noted, Bridge Moms would go on to send hundreds of letters about community fears to the appropriate parties, which helped move the Bonner Bridge replacement out of gridlock.
“I hope every mother that wrote a letter feels ownership of that bridge every time they drive across it,” said Kavanagh. “We are so proud of this bridge. You have built us a bridge that is as beautiful as the landscape around it, and as strong as the people on both sides of it.”
The history of the bridge itself – and the long road to get to a finished replacement – was also a popular theme, with Allen Moran of the N.C. Board of Transportation saying to the governor “You are the sixth governor involved in this project.”
With multiple public figures, contributors, politicians, construction workers, and other people who had a hand in building the bridge in attendance, the long list of people to thank – and the teamwork involved – was also dotted throughout the ceremony.
“We have something very special here. We work as a team to accomplish great things,” said Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac.
And the vital lifeline that the bridge provides to residents of Hatteras Island, as well as the 2 million travelers who visit it every year, served as a primary cause of celebration during the event.
“What’s the purpose of a bridge? To link communities together. And that’s what the Marc Basnight Bridge will do – link Hatteras Island with the rest of our [Outer Banks] communities,” said Chairman Woodard. “…Today proves dreams can come true.”
The ceremony – which was held in a covered tent at the base of the bridge due to the deteriorating weather conditions – ended with a ribbon cutting and a display of the new bridge signs that would mark the entrance to the structure.
The new bridge is named for Basnight, an Outer Banks native and small businessman who was elected to the state senate in 1984 and served as president pro tempore of the senate from 1993-2010. As a state senator, Basnight worked to improve transportation on the Outer Banks, and championed environmental and educational initiatives across the state.
The new bridge was officially named the Marc Basnight Bridge with Tuesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, but the $252 million bridge opened to traffic on Feb. 25. It replaces the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which opened in 1964 and greatly outlived its 30-year lifespan.
More than 100 engineers were involved in the planning and design of the bridge, which is built to last more than 100 years. It is the first bridge in the state to be built with stainless reinforcing steel, which will help it better withstand the harsh saltwater environment. With pilings embedded as deep as 130 feet into the bottom of Oregon Inlet, it is capable of withstanding up to 84 feet of scour, which is when sand is washed away from the pilings. It also will provide safer passage in and out of the inlet for marine traffic, providing seven navigational spans compared to just one under the Bonner Bridge.
“This bridge is a testament to what can be accomplished when people come together for a common cause,” said N.C. Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon. “The people of the Outer Banks never lost faith and never stopped advocating for this bridge, because it is their lifeline.”
Now that the new bridge is open to traffic, crews have begun the process of dismantling the Bonner Bridge. Part of the bridge will be used as offshore reef sites. About 1,000 feet of the bridge will be left in place as a pedestrian walkway and will retain the Bonner name.
The demolition process is expected to be complete within the next year.