WRAL Documentary: Bridge in Troubled Water

Posted March 18, 2014
Updated May 15, 2014

The Bonner Bridge is the only physical link between Hatteras Island and the mainland. It’s a valuable lifeline that connects tourists to attractions like the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and connects island residents to the rest of the world. It helps fuel the island’s $200 million annual tourism industry.

The bridge’s emergency closure over safety concerns in December inflamed the 20-year-old debate over its replacement.

The 50-year old bridge was supposed to have been replaced in 1993. Since then various replacement options have been studied and debated. The choices have been narrowed down to two: a new bridge parallel to the old one and a 17-mile bridge in Pamlico Sound that would avoid the treacherous Oregon Inlet and by-pass Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and sections of highway 12 that are regularly washed out. The state decided to build the shorter, cheaper bridge but the project was blocked by environmental groups who support the longer, more expensive bridge that they say will provide more reliable, long-term access to Hatteras Island.

With a lawsuit stalling the bridge’s replacement tensions have flared pitting state leaders against leading environmentalists and neighbor against neighbor.

“Bridge in Troubled Water” is a half-hour WRAL Documentary that examines the controversy. WRAL News Anchor Bill Leslie hosts the program, which debuted Wednesday, April 2, 2014, at 7 p.m.

DOT, environmental group defend positions

The state Department of Transportation and the Southern Environmental Law Center are litigants in a lawsuit over the future of the Bonner Bridge. DOT Secretary Tony Tata and SELC Director Derb Carter talked to WRAL about their positions, the costs of the proposals and the name-calling that has characterized the debate.

Q&A: Here are answers to some key questions in their own words.

Behind the Doc: DOT comments fuel conflict over Bonner Bridge

Video: Ride the Bonner Bridge

Timeline: Bridge in Troubled Water

Scroll through the timeline or click the arrows above to navigate the history of the Bonner Bridge.

News from Bonner Bridge

12/2013: Reopened bridge brings normalcy back to Hatteras

12/2013: Legal tangles block Bonner Bridge replacement

12/2013: Safety concerns prompt DOT to close Hatteras bridge

09/2012: NC environmental regulators OK Outer Banks bridge

03/2010: Fate of OBX's Bonner Bridge still undecided

09/2007: Gabrielle stirs up Bonner Bridge controversy



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  • jcjohnson2 May 27, 2014

    Nothing in this doc was disputed by the current DOT administration.

  • jimtrogdon Apr 12, 2014

    Many factual errors in this piece from an estimate of 595 million for long bridge to at no point did all state and fed agencies select or prefer the long bridge. But that is what happens when derb at SELC is used as a source of information instead of as a source for fundraising to pay his $340,000 annual salary.

    It is sad that so few has cost so many so much for so long. People of OBX should show up on Rosemary street and voice their opinion.