A petition aimed at the N.C. Board of Transportation and orchestrated by the recently formed group “KEEP it Bonner” has generated an estimated 1,350 signatures in favor of keeping the Bonner Bridge name for the new bridge.
The page and petition are in response to a resolution that was passed at the February 4 meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC), where commissioners voted 3-2 to change the name of the bridge to the “Marc Basnight Oregon Inlet Bridge,” in honor of the Manteo-born State Senator and Board of Transportation member.
This February 4 resolution stemmed from comments regarding a potential name change at a previous January 7 BOC meeting, where a subsequent online form was created by the county to gather the public’s input on a bridge name.
The results of the form, which were presented at the BOC’s February 7 meeting, were also in favor of naming the bridge after March Basnight, with 309 votes for Basnight, 266 votes for Herbert C. Bonner, and a handful of votes for other options, such as Oregon Inlet (74 votes) or Capt. Toby Tillet (64 votes), the original ferry captain over Oregon Inlet.
But KEEP it Bonner organizer Jayson Collier says that the process to change the name had several problematic attributes.
Collier and the group note that, per the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Road, Bridge or Ferry Naming Request Process, the name was required to get unanimous support on a local government level, based on the guidelines that “If the local government(s) pass(es) the resolution unanimously, the application progresses in the process…”
“That’s the crux of this whole thing,” says Collier, referring to the 3-2 vote of the BOC. “It needs unanimous local support, but this isn’t the case, and not even among the board members themselves.”
Though the BOC did facilitate and seek out public comments on the resolution, (which ultimately favored Basnight), Collier also says that the speed at which the process moved may have prevented more voices from providing input.
“They’re correct when they say that the form was publically available, and that it was shared by the media,” says Collier. “But it was only there if you were looking for it, and no one was looking for it at the time because for three years the bridge had been branded the ‘new Bonner Bridge.’ There wasn’t even a mention of a new bridge name until after the holidays [in 2019], and then everything progressed so quickly.”
The speed of the process allowed a potential new name to take effect at around the same time of the bridge’s official opening, but Collier says that taking a step back and hitting the “time out” button could foster a larger discussion.
“What I’m really hopeful for is that we can pause, and have a further conversation, and come up with something that is a little more equitable,” he says. “Even if the [eventual] outcome ended up being for Marc Basnight, everyone would have their say, and everyone would feel better about the situation.”
Collier has sent the petition results to the North Carolina Board of Transportation members, who will be voting on the issue at their March 7 meeting. (The initial N.C. Board of Transportation’s Road, Bridge and Ferry naming committee recommended adopting the “Marc Basnight” name at their meeting on February 8.)
The Bonner Bridge opened to the public at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, February 25. A formal “grand opening” and official ribbon cutting ceremony is set for April 2, with Governor Roy Cooper among the expected guests.