While hopes were high that the Jug Handle Bridge would open to traffic late this week, the opening has been postponed to next week due to a delay in the last steps of the process, which entails paving and adding the permanent lane markings.
“One of the pieces of machinery that the subcontractor needs to do the striping [or lane markings] was not available this week,” stated Tim Hass, N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Communications Officer. “We are now planning to get the striping going early Monday, and to have the bridge open sometime next week.”
The project was previously delayed in April due to a damaged expansion joint, which was one of 26 expansion joints on the 2.4-mile-long structure. Expansion joints allow the concrete to naturally expand and contract without cracking during the bridge’s estimated 100-year lifespan, and this damage required a new expansion joint to be delivered to the site to replace the original one.
The mid-May nor’easter extended this delay, as although the replacement expansion joint arrived on the Outer Banks just before the storm, it was unable to be delivered due to the multiple-day closure of N.C. Highway 12.
The Jug Handle Bridge is considered part of Phase II of the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project, and is the final bridge of the three new recent bridges on Hatteras Island to be built. (The Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge on Pea Island was completed in the spring of 2018, and the Bonner Bridge replacement was completed in 2019.)
The bridge will have a 55-mph speed limit, with roughly a 1-mile-long passing zone. As traffic approaches the southern terminal, the speed limit will drop to 45 mph, and then 35 mph before entering a roundabout, which is complete and ready to open concurrently with the bridge.
While the bridge is open, Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative will continue its work installing the cables under the bridge, which will replace the overhead power lines that currently run parallel to N.C. Highway 12.
Once it’s up and running, the Jug Handle Bridge will bypass the Mirlo Beach and S-Turns section of N.C. Highway 12, which is highly susceptible to breaches and ocean overwash during storms, (including the most recent May nor’easter.)
Though there have been casual ideas and conversations about a new name for the structure – a decision that is spearheaded by Dare County – there have been no official suggestions for a bridge name yet, other than the informal “Jug Handle Bridge” moniker.
More information on the bridge project, which includes project history, maps, documents, and videos, can be found at https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/nc-12-rodanthe/Pages/default.aspx.