Key Bridge To Cape Hatteras National Seashore Closed Due To Safety Concerns

Reaching Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina just got a lot tougher. The state Transportation Department has closed the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet on N.C. 12 along the Outer Banks due to safety concerns.

There are just two ways to reach Hatteras and Ocracoke islands -- either via the Bonner Bridge, or via ferry.

"We have no idea how long it will be before it reopens," Cyndy Holda, the national seashore's public affairs officer, said Tuesday afternoon of the bridge closure. "They are talking ferry service will start up again tomorrow from Stumpy Point. So the trip is worth it, but may take a lot longer."

According to the Transportation Department, "(R)outine sonar scanning of the bridge identified scouring concerns, or areas where too much sand has eroded from the support structure of the bridge. As NCDOT crews continued to monitor these conditions, inspections revealed additional areas of concern, which led department officials to decide to close the bridge immediately for the safety of all residents and visitors of the area."

Department officials issued a release Tuesday stating that the bridge would remain closed at least as long as it takes for additional safety inspections to be conducted and to "make necessary repairs to fortify the structure."

"NCDOT has declared a state of emergency as a way of expediting the process and steps are already underway to begin repair work as soon as possible," the department said.

Since 1989 there has been talk about replacing the Bonner Bridge, which dates to 1963 and is the only evacuation route for the two islands, short of ferries. NCDOT awarded a contract to a design-build team to replace the bridge in August 2011. Design work began immediately and construction of the replacement bridge was originally set to begin in early 2013. All work is currently on hold following a series of legal challenges by the Southern Environmental law center on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association.

On Sept. 16, NCDOT received a favorable ruling in the federal lawsuit filed by the SELC when Judge Louise Flanagan issued a 42-page order denying all claims that NCDOT violated federal law when the department studied and selected the parallel bridge.

“Closing the Bonner Bridge is necessary to keep all travelers safe, but we know it will have a devastating effect on the people who live along and visit the Outer Banks,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata in a prepared statement. “We will work to safely reopen this vital lifeline quickly, and hope to be able to begin construction on a new bridge as soon as possible.”

The Bonner Bridge is the only highway access for vehicles between Hatteras Island and the mainland. Until it is safe to reopen, the NCDOT Ferry Division will provide emergency support to move people and cars across the Pamlico Sound.

Ferry Division workers have already tested the emergency ferry ramps at Stumpy Point and Rodanthe, and the division is currently sending four 180-foot River Class vessels to begin operating the emergency Hatteras Island route. All tolls currently in place on the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter and Ocracoke-Cedar Island ferry routes will be waived for residents, emergency personnel and vendors while the bridge is closed and the emergency ferry route is in operation. The U.S. Coast Guard is also currently on standby.

“We expect the emergency ferry route to be up and running Wednesday morning,” said Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon. “We know the residents of Hatteras Island are depending on us to be their lifeline, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

At full capacity on a full schedule, the route can ferry 760 single cars a day, 380 from each side. A detailed emergency ferry route schedule will be available on the Ferry division website.


Officials blame Bonner issues on environmentalists

Duh! These liberal enviro wackos are ruining America along with this inept administration.

A big part of me wishes the bridge and NC 12 had never been built. Nothing is permanent on barrier islands it is amazing the bridge has lasted as long as it has in that kind of high energy environment.

Maybe we should just let the bridge, Hwy 12, and the artificial dunes go and turn to ferries from Bodie and high speed ferries from the mainland instead.

Resisting nature in this case is a loosing battle and may end up destroying what we love if we continue to try.

They have been fighting to keep Oregon inlet open and New Inlet closed for years --maybe if we stop doing that nature will build a bridge for us.

Prior to the establishment of the National Seashore in the 1930s the then NPS Director visited the OBX and wrote a wonderful article published in National Geographic in which he describes taking the ferry where the Bonner Bridge is now and driving along the beach down Hatteras. Reading of how it was back in those days and with that level of isolation minus all the yankees will make you wish it could be that way today. Still I understand that the park fills a major need for recreation to large numbers of people. If you want to see what Hatteras Island was like in the days before Bonner Bridge and NC12 go to the island to the south Core Banks on Cape Lookout National Seashore. You can be there at the height of the summer with traffic Jams of tourists on Ocracoke and not see another human for miles on Portsmouth Island -a very rare thing on the East coast.

Part of me really agrees with Perpetual Seasonal. Forget the bridge and go back to ferries. Stanley Riggs et al "Battle for North Carolina's Coast" has studied this for years and recommends ferries as well.

This closure will affect Mountains-to-Sea Trail hikers. But walking across the Bonner Bridge was so dangerous. Another ferry ride might be fun.


So, they built the bridge in 1963 knowing it had a life-span of 30 years. And then, beginning in 1989, they spent 20+ years delaying the inevitable - the replacement of the bridge. Now, they finally decide to actually do what should have been done 20+ years ago and they are facing delays due to a lawsuit. It would seem to me that NDOT just found another way to delay the bridge without taking blame for it. It's great that NDOT can now blame the "enviro wackos," but what was their excuse for the 20 years before now?

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would posit that the powers at both NDOT and SELC are in collusion to ensure no bridge is built. This will lower property values and business values to the point that some large investor pool could go in and buy up properties at fire sale prices, getting a return on their investment in 10 years when the new bridge is built.

I like how you think on this one dahkota, but Hatteras and Ocracoke Island land owners, and the handfull of families that make up the true Outer Banks natives are fairly powerful politically in North Carolina. I wouldn't put it past big develpoers to try something like that but true Hatterasmen are fiercely independent and would resist. There are many I am sure who wouldn't sell even if their values dropped no matter how long the ferry rides. It is a measure of just how difficult the geology, and how difficult the federal bureaucracy, is that it hasn't been replaced before now.

If you go down there and look at the names of the men who manned the lifesaving stations on the Outer Banks in the 19th and early part of the twentieth century those same few families are the same names on many of the signs of the beach house rental companies down there today. They are a tough breed.

I also liked Perpetual seasonal's post, Thanks.

Delayed mostly because of over regulation and mandated studies. The Bonner bridge project is one of most studied projects in the US.

SELC and NCDOT are not in collusion but have been at each other's throats for a long time. The SELC is taking the heat now because they are stalling the approved project, but that's what these evil ambulance chasers do best. Hatteras does not have time or the money to build the long bridge and SELC knows that.

You used to be able not see humans for miles during tourist season on HI before the NPS closed miles of beach. Though, as always, you could get that experience at CHNSRA's PINWR and that's why the VFAs are not necessary.

I haven't studied this issue in depth, but I agree that it's hard to justify the large increase in expense that would be required by the much longer bridge favored by environmental groups.

That said, it appears the timetable by NCDOT for a replacement bridge was too far behind to avoid the current bridge closure, even without the legal challenges by environmental groups. Blame for the current concerns about a ferry vs. a bridge seems to lie more with lack of funding and a sense of urgency by NCDOT than with environmental groups.

Another point, completely ignored by the SELC, is the electricity provider for the island says the long bridge or ferry only service would increase costs by at least 40%.

The SELC supports a 17 mile bridge into the sound but is against the 7 mile mid Currituck bridge into the sound. Hypocritical jerks...

The North Carolina Department of Transportation and previous governors have never selected the long bridge as a preferred alternative. In 2003 the long bridge was agreed to be studied in detail, based on misinformation by SELC and others, which was later proved erroneous by the U.S. Secretary of Interior and an Assistant Secretary of Interior.

Contradicts SELC's latest press release...

I live on Hatteras Island and taking a ferry is a big problem for locals and visitors. There is a huge number weekly rental home and many visitors and and retires that live here year round. Ferries would not provide the kind of egress onto Hatteras Island that would come close to accommodating the number of visitors that come here.

The current bridge plan approved by the state is very problamatic. The new plan is actually 3 bridges in a phased approach. The new OI bridge parallels the old bridge precariously close the ocean. The second bridge is a 2 plus miles of elevated roadway close to surf zone that would be engineered to withstand the Atlantic ocean which is where current erosion rates predict it will soon be. The third bridge would turn west from the right of way on Pea Island cross into Pamilico Sound and then turn south for a mile before turning east and landing back on Highway 12 in Rodanthe. The last bridge there is to avoid anticipated new inlet there (Mirlo Beach). All of this is taking place on the most at risk to erosion section of beach in Dare County and Hatteras Island.


The current plan has a high likelihood (IMO) of not providing access to the rest of Hatteras Island and being a huge waste of money. If any of the 3 bridges fail or some new spot on the refugee breaches there is no access to the rest of HI.

All of this is planed to happen over 20 or so years putting the PINWR (wildlife refugee) in a perpetual construction zone. Something that many people not living here would certainly be opposed to just for the precedent that would have.

The upsetting part of this is that we would have had a new bridge completed that bypassed the major hurtles in the current plan by being built west of all this in Pamilico Sound. Everything was approved, funds were available when local and state back door politics stopped it at the last second because: A 17 miles bridge by previous agreement would cause the terminal rock groin on the south end of PINWR to be removed scuttling the chances of putting jetties in Oregon Inlet and 2. PINWR could not guarantee vehicle access into the refugee with the 17 mile new bridge.

Not really appropriate to go into the extreme right politics of our new governor except to say placing blame on environmental groups is high on his list.

Southern Environmental Law Center has answered the governor in a letter which can be read on their website at:

" Under their leadership, all state and federal agencies reached a regulatory agreement in 2003 that a longer bridge crossing Oregon Inlet and bypassing the eroding areas and future inlets on Pea Island was the best alternative. If objections from the Dare County Commission and local political leaders had not derailed that proposal, construction was scheduled to begin in 2006 with completion of a new bridge three years ago in 2010. The current bridge problem would have been avoided, and a long range solution in place."

Also on their website are some excellent photos of Pea Island and where the proposed bridge is plan, a picture is worth a 1000 words.

They agreed in 2003 to only study the 17 mile bridge, which would be one of the longest in the US and one of the longest in the world over water. It is estimated to cost 1.1+ billion, which the state could not afford. The studies showed that long bridge plan would be more environmentally damaging than the short bridge.

The SELC, Audubon, and DOW have created a public safety issue with thier frivolous lawsuits, but they could care less about the public, it's all about the money and power.

(edited comparison and cost amount)

The 17 mile bridge would not be the longest in the US and it would not make the top ten in the world.

I would like to see the studies you mention, beachdumb, as I have found studies that claim the opposite.

The cost estimated by NCDOT is $1.15 billion. Others estimate the cost to be closer is $600 million (not SELC).

An additional benefit of building the 17 mile bridge is the end of having to maintain and reroute route 12 through the NWR, which often costs up to $1 million per year due to erosion and such.

I wonder why, when NCDOT had the approval for the 17 mile bridge a few years ago, they didn't follow up on it. Then none of this would have happened. It seems convenient that NCDOT can blame SELC for the delay now, but what of the delays for the past 8 years?

Estimated to cost $16 million annually to maintain the long bridge.

Judge's ruling that denied SELCs motion to stop the short bridge construction.

It was never approved for construction, no ROD, only approved to study this option. Regardless, it could not be built if it had been approved because of the cost.

Thought it was interesting that estimated minimum cost of one way toll for the long bridge would be $18...

The short bridge will deposit vehicles onto a 13 miles section of beach that is eroding at a rate from 5- 20 feet a year. I cant find any coastal geologists that support this plan. Using the latest up to date scientific research they predict 5 new inlets in this area. The current plan identifies 3 bridges to be constructed in phases when money becomes available to construct then, good luck with that.
Because the long bridge plan might be too expensive is not a good reason for building a less expensive (?) option that is complicated, expensive and logistically problematic

Because the long bridge plan might be too expensive is not a good reason for building a less expensive (?) option that is complicated, expensive and logistically problematic

How is the long bridge is not more complicated, expensive, and logistically problematic?

Just learned the long bridge would need 8 miles of dredging in the sound, that doesn't seem environmentally friendly to me.

It (long bridge) might not be more environmentally friendly. That doesn't make the short bridges more likely to be successful, it is still a plan fraught with problems and expense.

Buxton, are you okay with loosing access to PINWR which most agree would happen? USFWS claims they would not gaurantee access and might consider 4x4 bus. And they will no incentive then to maintain a dune line, would likely being boat access only with long bridge option.