Numerous islanders made an impromptu trip north on Monday afternoon to be among the first to drive across the new Bonner Bridge replacement.
From residents who had been involved with the replacement efforts for years, to people who took advantage of a gap in their schedule, taking a drive on the bridge was the mission of the day after the sudden NCDOT announcement that the bridge was open for business.
Natalie Kavanagh and Beth Midgett, the driving force behind “Bridge Moms” and the local island efforts to build a new bridge for decades, were in the car minutes after they heard the news.
“As soon as I saw it was open on Facebook, I called Beth and said ‘we’re going for a ride!’” said Kavanagh. “I first saw the post at 1:00 p.m., and by 1:45 p.m. we were in the car…. We would have gotten there faster, but we had to get fuel.”
The announcement spurred a bit of “bridge euphoria” for Kavanagh and all residents who had spent years fighting to replace a bridge that exceeded its intended 30-year lifespan 26 years ago. Some residents even installed window-breaker hammers in their vehicles, or got into the habit of rolling down their windows when crossing the old Bonner Bridge, just in case a deadly malfunction occurred en route.
“The message of Bridge Moms was that we needed safe, reliable transportation on Hatteras Island, and not only did we get this bridge, but we also got the [Pea Island Bridge] and the upcoming Rodanthe Jug Handle bridge.”
“I think it’s the most amazing bridge ever built,” she added. “Although I might be partial because it’s ‘our bridge.’”
Opening at 12:20 p.m. with little notice, driving on the new bridge was also a surprise for many residents who simply caught the opening by chance, and who also got to be among the first to enjoy the new pavement, and the new views.
“I went up the beach at 10:00 a.m. on the old bridge, and came back at 2 p.m. on the new bridge,” said one Avon resident. “I had no idea I was going to cross two bridges today [across Oregon Inlet], which is pretty amazing.”
Others were not as lucky.
“We have this thing in my family called Tokazowski Luck. Just dumb luck,” said Hatteras resident Donna Tokazowski in a social media post. “For instance, we were driving by Mac’s in Rodanthe when I read on Facebook that the new bridge opened. Fifteen minutes after we crossed over the old bridge….
“[You] wait forty years for a new bridge, and miss being one of the first cars over it by 15 minutes.”
But regardless of whether unsuspecting drivers coincided a trip with the new bridge opening, or had an unknowing opportunity to drive on the Old Bonner Bridge one last time, everyone who took a spin on the new bridge agreed that it was a smooth ride.
“Incredible views!” “Nice and smooth driving!” and “No bump-bump-bumps!” were all included in casual reviews provided by islanders who fully enjoyed a cruise.
Thankfully, with a 100-year-lifespan, folks who have not been able to head north to check out the bridge for themselves should have ample opportunities to do so in both the near and very distant future.
And in the meantime, residents will continue to enjoy the heightened feeling of “bridge euphoria” that inherently comes with waiting decades for a safe and reliable bridge.
“As far as Bridge Moms is concerned, we are very happy and proud of our new bridge,” said Kavanagh. “Even though we were just one small part of this project, when we did have our concerns, we were listened to… Our officials at NCDOT, the state government, and the federal government listened and got us through the gridlock that held this project up.”
“I am so proud of all the moms that took time to write a letter and share their concerns and fears… Congratulations to us all!”