DOT secretary: Hatteras bridge 'standing on borrowed time'
Posted December 4, 2013
Updated December 5, 2013
Stumpy Point, N.C. — A day after state transportation officials closed the Bonner Bridge amid safety concerns, they said Wednesday that they need Gov. Pat McCrory to declare a state of emergency so they can bring a dredge to the Outer Banks quickly to help speed bridge repairs.
The Department of Transportation has already awarded a $1.6 million contract to Carolina Bridge Company Inc. of Orangeburg, S.C., to fix the bridge, which provides the only land link to Hatteras Island.
Routine sonar scanning found excessive underwater erosion around some of the bridge supports, forcing the DOT to immediately close the span. Divers sent down in recent days found more than half the sand and earth that should be around some of the bridge supports was missing. A gaping 25- by 150-foot hole is around some of the underwater pillars, officials said.
Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said Wednesday that engineers feared the bridge would collapse without immediate intervention.
"When the engineers told me it was unsafe, I made the decision to close the bridge," Tata said. "This bridge is standing on borrowed time."
The move left many Hatteras Island residents scrambling.
"We are stuck," Lucie Nuzzo said.
Nuzzo and her husband run a business on the island, but her children attend school on the mainland. The Bonner Bridge closure cut the family's lives in two.
"I found out at 3:15 (p.m. Tuesday) the bridge was going to close," she said. "I rushed, and they did not let me through with three kids in the car – hungry, no clothes, I mean, I am still in the same clothes from yesterday."
A DOT truck is parked at either end of the bridge, and barricades block entrance to it.
Meagan McElwain said she and other residents have been aware of concerns about the bridge's safety for a while.
"It is not too stable for people to go and cross, but it keeps passing. I think it is time for it to go ahead and get ready to get fixed," McElwain said.
The DOT's Ferry Division launched an emergency ferry service to shuttle people and vehicles between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe until the bridge reopens. That has left people sitting in line for an hour or so for the two-hour ferry ride to or from the island.
At full capacity on a full schedule, the emergency ferries can handle 760 cars a day. As many as 3,000 vehicles used the bridge each day at this time of year.
The Ferry Division also added a daily round-trip run between Ocracoke and Swan Quarter to ease congestion on the emergency ferries.
Resident Greg Compher said he has had to use a ferry in past crises, and it's not convenient.
"It's kind of a pain. It was foggy, (so they) could not run the ferry. If it is windy, couldn't run the ferry," Compher said. "It is a big inconvenience."
While there are medical facilities on Hatteras Island, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said a large, unexpected emergency could cause problems.
"We would have to figure out, can we get a boat, can we do something different, or is it severe enough we need to dispatch a helicopter?" Outten said.
Tata wouldn't give an estimate for when the bridge would be repaired and reopened.
As part of this emergency repairs, crews will use sandbags and 4-foot-tall A-Jacks to provide support to the bridge pilings. A-jacks locked together will form a perimeter around the support structure, and crews will then fill the perimeter with sandbags, officials said. The process will be completed three times, providing 10 to 12 feet of protection to the pilings and allowing sand to collect naturally over the supports.
Once the bridge reopens, more sensors will be placed on it to measure its stress, officials said.