Last Girder Placed in Bonner Bridge Replacement Span

The last girder is place in the replacement span of the Bonner Bridge. Photo, WUNC
The last girder is place in the replacement span of the Bonner Bridge. Photo, WUNC
NCDOT Predicts a December Opening

Fifteen years after its expected lifespan, the Bonner Bridge is finally about to be replaced. They placed final connecting girder on the replacement project last week and if all goes a hoped, NCDOT is planning on a December ribbon cutting for the new bridge.

The original Bonner Bridge connecting the northern Outer Banks with Hatteras island had an expected life expectancy of 40 years. Completed in 1963, the expectation was that a new bridge would be in place by 2003. But a series of vigorous environmental lawsuits—and a an originally preferred alternative that was cost prohibitive and would have made Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge virtually inaccessible—held up construction for move than a decade.

The end result is truly spectacular, towering over the original bridge, it is an engineering marvel.

The replacement bridge is only 20’, but it is so massive it seems much bigger. Whereas the current Bonner Bridge has one navigation span, the new bridge will have seven, all of them wider than the original.

But what really seems to set this project apart is the application of the science of how to build a bridge in an environment as harsh and demanding as Oregon Inlet.

To control corrosion, the rebar that is being used in the concrete girders and pilings is stainless steel, and it is the first bridge built in North Carolina that uses the material.

The pilings that have to take the greatest weight have been pounded 100’ into the seabed of Oregon Inlet. The pilings are also at a slight angle, allowing them to handle more weight. There are other innovative design techniques as well, including material that creates a stronger but lighter concrete for the girders.

The end result is a replacement span that is expected to have a 100 year lifespan.

After completing the new Bonner Bridge the old one will have to be demolished, a project that will take almost a year. Plans call for 1000’ feet on the Hatteras Island side to be retained as a fishing pier. Much of the remaining material will be cleaned and used to create fishing reefs.

The Bonner Bridge is the most visible—and arguably important—part of the project, but NCDOT has always seen NC12 from Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe as a project area.

The first bridge completed was the Richard Etheridge Bridge at New Inlet. The next bridge that will be the “Jug Handle” bypassing the S Curves north of Rodanthe.

So named because it forms a jug handle as it swings through Pamlico Sound, NCDOT expect the project to be completed in fall of 2020.

Fall is a great time to visit the Outer Banks. Check out our Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates listing and see what’s available.

Reports Indicate Mid Currituck Bridge Project Moving Forward

Proposed route of the Mid Currituck Bridge, spanning Currituck Sound.
Proposed route of the Mid Currituck Bridge, spanning Currituck Sound.
40 Years Since Project Was First Discussed

If recent reports are accurate, the Mid Currituck Bridge may be back on track. The long-planned but always delayed project is seen as the best alternative to reduce weekend traffic woes during the Outer Banks summer season.

The project was first envisioned in 1978, but NCDOT planning for the bridge did not begin until the 1990s. Plans call for a 6 mile two lane toll bridge spanning the Currituck Sound at Aydlett on the mainland, connecting with the Currituck Banks just south of Great Beach Pond about a mile south of Corolla Village.

The project’s website indicates a Record of Decision will be issued in late summer or fall of 2018. Since there is very little time left in the summer, fall seems most likely and thetas what is being reported.

The Record of Decision of decision outlines the scope of the project and is needed to award contracts. It typically takes 15-18 months to negotiate contracts, so reasonably construction would begin in 2020. The NCDOT timetable has always seen the Mid Currituck Bridge as a four year project, so a 2024 opening is the prediction.

That timetable aligns with the reporting that we’re seeing.

However, there are a number of cautionary notes that have to accompany this.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has voiced concerns about the project and has funded a study that suggests there are less expensive alternatives to spending $489 million that would result in significant improvements in traffic delays.

Although the bridge is seen as a means to reduce traffic woes, its primary purpose is to allow faster evacuation times if an evacuation is needed. According to the SELC, their plan would also reduce evacuation times.

To date, the SELC has not stated that they will sue to stop the Mid Currituck Bridge. If a lawsuit is filed, though, it would not be filed until the Record of Decision is issued, and typically not until the end of the comment period for it.

If a lawsuit is filed, it’s difficult to know when the project will move forward.

Great weather and a beach to yourself…fall is the perfect time to visit Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates and the Outer Banks.

The OBX Great Dogwood Trail Traffic Experiment

Traffic approaching the prohibited left turn onto S. Dogwood Trail in Southern Shores.
Traffic approaching the prohibited left turn onto S. Dogwood Trail in Southern Shores.

This was the weekend of the great South Dogwood Trail experiment in Southern Shores…the weekend when, working with NCDOTand the town of Kitty Hawk, a left hand turn onto South Dogwood Trail off US 158 was prohibited.

Was it successful?

That’s hard to say, and there probably will not be anything approaching an answer for some time.

From the ground, observing the intersection, it appeared as though traffic was moving in a typically slow summer pattern to the intersection of US 158 and NC 12 about a mile to the west. That’s the intersection that leads to Duck and Corolla and is invariably a bottleneck on summer weekends on the Outer Banks.

There was significantly less traffic on South Dogwood Trail than there has been over the past few years. However, because right hand turns and through traffic coming from Kitty Hawk road could still access the blocked street, there was still an increase in use.

The use of South Dogwood Trail as a way to get around the 158/12 bottleneck has become a significant safety issue for Southern Shores. The roads are narrow, and designed for residential use. None of the roads that are used after leaving the highway were ever designed for the volume of traffic that uses them on a weekend summer day.

Much of the problem lies with GPS systems that tell drivers the best route is through the tree-lined streets of residential Southern Shores.

NCDOT seemed to do a very good job of telling drivers that a left turn at S. Dogwood was prohibited. Signage and barrier barrels sealing off the turn lane, kept motorists from even getting into the left turn lane.

Will the experiment be repeated?

That is a possibility, although the the state and local authorities want to go over data NCODT collected before drawing any conclusions.

Summer on the Outer Banks is spectacular. Check out Joe Lamb Jr., & Associates. for vacation possibilities.

Work on Wright Memorial Bridge to End Soon

Wright Memorial Bridge looking west.
Wright Memorial Bridge looking west.
All Lanes to Be Open Before Peak Season

The Wright Memorial Bridge has been in NCDOT news lately. The immediate news is that the work on the eastbound bridge—inbound—will be finished on schedule or maybe even a bit earlier than scheduled.

The scheduled reopening for the bridge is May 14.

The bridge has been closed since October for $21 million in much needed upgrades and repairs. During that time, what is normally the westbound bridge has been used for inbound and outbound traffic.

The twin spans of the Wright Memorial Bridge were completed at different times, with the first bridge completed in 1966 and the parallel span 30 years later.

The refurbishment was overdue. An October 2016 assessment rated the eastbound bridge’s overall condition as poor with a sufficiency rating of 37.9. Although that is a relatively low rating, at no point in time was the bridge considered unsafe, and the 37.9 sufficiency rating is significantly better than the Bonner Bridge rating in the single digits.

All signs point to the replacement for the Bonner Bridge completed on schedule in the fall of this year.

There is other news from NCDOT about the Wright Memorial Bridge, although this news has to do with the chronic traffic backups that occur during the summer on weekends.

NCDOT has ranked the intersection of US158 and NC12 as NC12 heads north to Duck and Corolla as a priority. Priority in this case means it ranks high in projects that need to move forward. It does not mean construction is imminent.

What the actual plans are for the intersection will be is difficult to say. The notice simply ranks the project compared to other statewide priorities and assigns an approximate dollar figure.

That dollar figure is $97 million. For that amount of construction money, it is likely that a much discussed flyover for the intersection that would take northbound traffic directly to NC12, bypassing the traffic light is likely. There will certainly be other improvements as well.

Start date for the project is 2025 0r 2026.

Blackbeard Exhibit Coming to Hatteras, Flag Flies from Ferries

Blackbeard the Pirate. His death 300 years ago marked the end of the age of piracy along the southern coast of America.
Blackbeard the Pirate. His death 300 years ago marked the end of the age of piracy along the southern coast of America.
300th Anniversary of Pirate’s Death Commemorated by State

November 22, 1718—the day Blackbeard the Pirate met his just desserts as Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the British Royal Navy trapped him off Ocracoke and took his head…literally.

To commemorate the event, the NCDOT Ferry Division will be flying Blackbeard’s flag from ferries sailing to and from Ocracoke this summer.

There will also be a traveling exhibit of Queen Anne’s Revenge. The exhibit will be on the Outer Banks at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras June 2 through July 29.

Queen Anne’s Revenge was the most famous of the ships Blackbeard used, although it was not his only one. In 1718 he either ran aground or deliberately scuttled the ship and rowed ashore near Beaufort and proceeded to take advantage of Governor Eden’s offer of a King’s Pardon if he promised to never go a-pirating again.

It was a short-lived promise.

He was soon back at sea, this time with a ready market for his good in the poverty stricken colony of North Carolina. Although nothing was ever proven in a court of law, most scholars of history feel Governor Eden and other members of his administration either pointedly turned a blind eye to his activity or directly profited from it.

Under any circumstances it seems apparent the Secretary of the State, Tobias Knight was working directly with Blackbeard. When Lt. Maynard killed the pirate, a letter from Knight warning of the British fleet was found on him.

However, tried in NC courts, Knight was found not guilty of all charges.

Maynard was dispatched by Virginia Governor Spotswood after repeated entreaties Eden to reign in Blackbeard went un answered.

After defeating Blackbeard, Maynard mounted his severed head on the bowsprit of his ship, the HMS Pearl.

Hatteras/Ocracoke Passenger Ferry Perfect for Day Trips

New Passenger only Ferry to Be in Service by Summer

With the introduction of a passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke Village this summer, it looks as though the ferry division of NCDOT got things very right.

The only way on or off Ocracoke Island is by water, and for the past five years the ferry channel between Hatteras and the Ocracoke terminal has been shoaling. Two years ago, the decision was made that the main channel could no longer be effectively dredged and a new channel has been in use.

Unfortunately the new channel added time to the ferry runs and the number of trips doing peak season feel from 52 per day to 42 according to NCDOT.

The new passenger only ferry service that is being offered is a partial solution to the problem.

Ocracoke is perfect as a day trip destination and the ferry division’s newest addition is designed to take advantage of that. Docking at Silver Lake in the heart of Ocracoke Village, passengers will have a day to walk around one of the most picturesque towns of the Outer Banks.

The ferry is still undergoing tests and is not yet in service, although NCDOT has indicated it will be available by summer. A confirmed schedule has not yet been published but tentatively NCDOT is planning on four trip a day with the first leaving Hatteras at 10:00 a.m. and the last departing Ocracoke at 8:30 p.m.

There will be some restrictions on what can be taken on the ferry. Luggage and coolers are prohibited. However, there are provisions for bikes and parents of toddlers and younger can certainly bring strollers.

The ferry will seat 99 and takes 70 minutes to make the run. Unlike the vehicle ferry which is free, the passenger only ferry will have a $15 fee. Reservations are recommended.

This will be a passenger, day use ferry. There is parking available at the Hatteras Ferry Terminal, but overnight parking is prohibited.

We’re pretty excited about this. Ocracoke is a wonderful day trip destination, and honestly driving a a car through those narrow twisting streets is difficult and we almost always park our car and walk about anyway.

New Pea Island Bridge Named for Richard Etheridge

From NCDOT. Getting ready to remove the old bridge with the Richard Etheridge Bridge next to it.
From NCDOT. Getting ready to remove the old bridge with the Richard Etheridge Bridge next to it.
New Bridge Opens on Pea Island

Even though it opened for traffic a little while ago, the Richard Etheridge Bridge down on Pea Island had its official naming yesterday.

When Hurricane Irene created a new inlet just north of New Inlet on Pea Island, NCDOT moved quickly to get a temporary bridge in place. Yes, it looked like a tinker toy, but they had it in place and open for traffic in six weeks.

It performed as advertised for six-and-a-half years, although traffic had to slow way down to cross it.

It was never going to be a permanent solution, and everyone knew it.

The new span, the Richard Etheridge Bridge, is almost twice as long—663’ vs 1100’—and beautifully engineered. It is not, however, going to be the permanent solution.

This bridge has a planned lifespan of 25 years, and the long-range strategy calls for it to be replaced with a bridge probably somewhere to the west.

Who Was Richard Etheridge

Naming the bridge for Richard Etheridge is appropriate.

Etheridge was the captain of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station from the 1880s through the 1890s.

The Pea Island Lifesaving Station was the only all African American crew in the Lifesaving Service and was consistently rated as one of the best on the Outer Banks.

He was a slave when he was born in 1842 on Roanoke Island. Although it cannot be confirmed, circumstantial evidence suggests that his father was John B. Etheridge, his owner.

When Northern forces captured Roanoke Island, he was freed and quickly enlisted in the Union Army, rising to the rank of sergeant.

In the 1870s the Lifesaving Service, the predecessor to the US Coast Guard, was hiring local watermen who understood the environment around them. Etheridge became Surfman #6 at Bodie Island, the lowest rank and the only rank an African American was permitted at that time.

Nonetheless, his work was noted with one inspector writing, “…one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina.”

Promoted to command the Pea Island Station, he was noted for expecting his crew to be the best. His expectations paid off when the schooner E.S. Newman ran aground on Pea Island.

He and his turfmen rescued the captain, the captain’s wife, their three-year-old child and all six crewmen in a hurricane so powerful it had overwashed Pea Island.

It took a while but in 1996 President Clinton awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal posthumously to the descendents of the crew.

When Hurricane Irene created a new inlet, it also exposed the remains of the Pea Island Station water tower, indicating how close to the bridge named for Richard Etheridge is to the station.

Pamlico Shipwreck Mystery Moves Closer to Being Solved

An image of the Pappy's Lane shipwreck during WWII.
An image of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck during WWII.
Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck Yields Clues to Marine ARCHAEOLOGIST

For almost 50 years the shipwreck off Pappy’s Lane in Rodanthe has been turning to rust.

A forlorn, forgotten husk there was little to suggest it was ever anything other than some rusted barge that had grounded and wasn’t worth the effort to refloat.

Clearly visible from the shoreline, the shipwreck first caught Coastal Studies Institute Marine Archeologist Nathan Richards’ attention in 2010, but with no funds to really study it he had to wait.

When NCDOT presented their route for the Jug Handle to bypass the S Curves north of Rodanthe, the archeological survey team advising the transportation department felt the wreck might have some significance.

The state asked Richards to investigate and what he and his team of interns and graduates students discovered is an amazing story that begins in WWII.

Needing a landing craft that could transport up to a company of soldier at a time, the US government in WWII designed the Landing Craft Infantry Mark 3-LCI (L)(3). The extra L is for large.

The ship performed as hoped, except it was not well armed and without close arm support when troops went ashore, they were being slaughtered—that was especially the case at Tarawa—one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific campaign.

To remedy that, some of the LCI being built were converted to gunboats—LCS Gunboat. According to reports, the LCS Gunboat was the most heavily armed ship by size and weight in WWII.

Although it has not yet been confirmed, circumstantial evidence seems to point to the wreck being a LCS Gunboat and according to Dr. Richards at a CSI Science on the Sound lecture on Thursday night, the ship seems to be the USS LCS (L)(3)-123.

At the time it ran aground and was abandoned, probably in 1969, the ship was long past it’s glory days and had been converted to a fuel transport ship along the Inner Coastal waterway.

It has not yet been confirmed, but anecdotal evidence suggests it was used to pull two other ships to open water that had run aground but in the effort ran aground itself and was unable to refloat.

Back to Normal on Outer Banks as Frigid Temperatures Retreat

Ducks, geese and sea birds at Kitty Hawk Bay escaping the north wind.
Ducks, geese and sea birds at Kitty Hawk Bay escaping the north wind.

With temperatures finally climbing above freezing it looks as though Snowmageddon is finally coming to an end on the Outer Banks.

Effects of Cold Temperatures and Heavy Snowfall

Not completely back to normal yet. Dare County Schools will be closed on Monday—that’s three snow days in a row. But county roads are still not completely cleared and the decision is a good one.

The main roads are cleared—and NCDOT, after what many considered a slow start, did put a number of plows on the roads to get them cleared. The problem is the secondary roads still have a lot of packed ice on them, and it’s doubtful if that will melt before noon tomorrow.

The kids are all celebrating, of course, but all that time will have to be made up at some point.

The snow certainly snarled things, but what really set this particular event apart from other was the extreme cold. We had four days in a row where daytime temperatures didn’t even come close to reaching the freezing mark.

Admittedly for someone living in Chicago or Bangor, Maine, that may not seem so odd, but here by the Atlantic Ocean, 250 miles or so south of the Mason Dixon Line, it’s not so common.

The storm also brought some very strong winds with it. At 2:20 a.m. Thursday morning Jennette’s Pier recorded a 74 mph gust with sustained winds of 63 mph. The measurements are taken on the pier itself, so winds on land are not quite as strong, but things were pretty lively for a while there including a thunder snowstorm.

The sounds are solid ice about 150 to 200 yards offshore, depending on where the winds are located. Kitty Hawk Bay, which is sheltered from the north winds, has more ice on it than areas where the waters are churned up by the winds.

Kitty Hawk Bay, though, is also where the ducks, geese and shorebirds have fled for protection.

The forecast for the next few days calls for moderating temperatures, and even a few above normal. We’ll take that and be ready for the next snow…just in case there is one.

Bonner Bridge Replacement Update

Artist's rendering of the Jug Handle, Bonner Bridge project.
Artist’s rendering of the Jug Handle, Bonner Bridge project.

The replacement for the Bonner Bridge has always been the big cog in the wheel to improve the transportation corridor through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Other pieces of the puzzle are coming together as well, and things are really getting busy as the road project takes shape. 

The Big News

The big new coming from NCDOT is that a contract has been awarded for the Jug Handle that will bypass the S Curves. The S Curves, just north of Rodanthe has, in the past, been prone to flooding and ocean overwash.

A beach nourishment project completed last year seems to be holding the ocean back for the time being. There is, however, wide consensus that beach nourishment is a temporary fix.

The Jug Handle is aptly named; swinging west about a mile north of Rodanthe, the road will cross the marsh on the soundside and extend into Pamlico Sound coming back to NC12 just north of the Island Convenience store.

The winning bid was for $145 million. The scheduled completion date is 2020.

New Inlet Replacement Almost Complete

Opened by Hurricane Irene, the breach just north of New Inlet has been crossed by a temporary bridge since December of 2011. Although the breach filled in with a year, the area is considered unstable and prone to ocean overwash and flooding.

A more permanent replacement bridge is almost completed. NCDOT is confident it will be open by the original estimate of April of this year.

Unlike the Bonner Bridge Replacement and Jug Handle, which are projected to have 100 year life spans, the New Inlet bridge will have a 25 year lifespan while a more permanent solution is researched.

Bonner Bridge Replacement
Pouring decking on the Bonner Bridge in January.
Pouring decking on the Bonner Bridge in January.

Slated to be open for traffic in the fall of 2018, according to NCDOT the project remains on target.

NCDOT is reporting decking is being poured on areas of the bridge that are nearing completion.

Construction is moving from the north and south simultaneously. The final piece of the puzzle will be the high-rise portion of the bridge, designed with seven navigational spans to give boat traffic options the original Bonner Bridge does not.