Local News

Gabrielle Stirs Up Bonner Bridge Controversy

Posted September 10, 2007

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— Tropical Storm Gabrielle caused minimal damage to the Outer Banks, but it did renew the debate about the safety of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.

The 2.5-mile bridge straddles the Oregon Inlet in Dare County. It is the only road to Hatteras Island.

At the height of the summer season, an estimated 15,000 vehicles travel over the bridge daily. Some of the travelers are tourists going to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The attraction has an estimated 2 million visitors a year.

"Everybody is just very concerned," said bridge advocate Beth Midgett. "I drive it several times a week."

In a recent inspection, the Bonner Bridge earned 2 out of a possible 100 points, with 100 being a perfect score. To improve the structure, the state approved $50 million for repairs.

"It's scary, when you look at what happened in Minneapolis. You think, 'Oh my God!  That bridge was 48 points higher than what we're dealing with here," said Midgett.

State and federal officials have decided to build a relatively short bridge parallel to the Bonner Bridge to take its place. The competing proposal was for a much longer and less direct bridge.

Midgett leads a group called Replace the Bridge Now. The grass-roots organization is tired of delays in building the new bridge.

County officials said permits for the new bridge could be issued within a year.

Dare County officials concede the 43-year-old bridge is showing its age, but they said the driving public is not in danger.

"For the motoring public, the bridge is safe," said Sandy Sanderson, Dare County's emergency-management director. "If it wasn't safe, we would be seeing them do things like restricting weight and restricting hours or that sort of thing, but they haven't done that."

Allen Burrus, a Dare County commissioner representing Hatteras Island, is frustrated by the government red tape he said is delaying the new bridge construction.

"It just amazes me that any process for the public good will take that long to make a decision and do it," said Burrus.

"A plan was chosen. A lot of thought was put into it. Let's get on with it. Let's issue the permits, call it the life and safety danger that it is right now and move forward appropriately," said Midgett.

Midgett said some environmental groups are calling for a federal investigation into the building of the new bridge. They want the construction to bypass the Pea Island Wildlife Nature Preserve, but that could result in a much longer structure.

As it stands, it could be another four to six years before any construction gets under way. The project is estimated to cost between $294 million and $347 million.

While the debate about the Hatteras bridge continued, there were also big problems Monday for motorists at Wrightsville Beach. The main drawbridge onto the island came down on a sailboat. The man on board the sailboat was not hurt, but the drawbridge was out of service for a while, causing a major traffic jam.

73 Comments

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  • hatteras17x Sep 12, 2007

    Except who would we sell all of our property to? There are a lot of homes here that are over 5 Million dollars, and is the government going to pay all of these homeowners what their homes are worth (which would be MUCH MORE than replacing the bridge)? Or are we all just screwed??

    As I have stated in previous posts, I have no problem with tourists paying tolls when crossing the bridge. I don't think many of them would care either...since they love this place so much. 2+ million people vacation here per year but we need to keep in account that they will be crossing the bridge twice, and we need to remember the people that come down just for the day and aren't really "hatteras island vacationers." Between all of that, I would say probably 5+ million tourists cross the bridge each year...which would pay back even faster.

  • Joshua Sep 12, 2007

    If no one lives there and no one buys property there, it becomes gamelands and natural habitats once more and then there is no need for a bridge to this sandbar. And it can continue protecting NC from hurricanes. However, if you wish to continue living there and tourists continue to flock there, buy the bridge with tolls, not taxes. If you use it, you pay for it. If you don't use it, you don't have to pay for it!

    2+ million tourists per summer at $5 per person, per car, is $10 million per summer gained in tolls. The repairs will pay for themselves in 5 years. Or, double the toll per person and the repairs are paid for in half the time. And guess what? It didn't cost me a penny! :)

  • hatteras17x Sep 12, 2007

    Can I ask you, Joshua, how many times you've been to Hatteras Island? Do you honestly think we, people who live here, are the only people that care about this island? Why don't you talk to the 2 million + tourists per summer that come down here. Im not sure if you're aware, but a lot of people that visit this place have liscense plates that say "lv4obx" and "buxton" not to mention how many people put OBX stickers on their cars. So you think we, who live here, should all sell our property and move away? Who is going to buy property down here if everyone is supposed to be uninhabiting this place?

  • Joshua Sep 12, 2007

    I think I understand. You live on shifting sands and you wish to continue to live on shifting sands. Now you're asking taxpayers to build a new bridge to your shifting sandbar. No thanks. You want a bridge? You pay for it.

  • hatteras17x Sep 12, 2007

    I guess what I should have said is "I think the only people allowed to comment on this article should be people that actually LIVE here OR KNOW what is going on," you obviously don't.

    I bet the people who live there and use this bridge are also complaining about all of the monies and relief going to hurricane victims in NOLA because they foolishly live in a bowl that sits below sea level. Give yourself the same advice you'd give them, "Don't live there. Just because your family did, doesn't mean YOU have to." -you bet that we all say that? guess again, we understand.

  • Joshua Sep 12, 2007

    I bet the people who live there and use this bridge are also complaining about all of the monies and relief going to hurricane victims in NOLA because they foolishly live in a bowl that sits below sea level. Give yourself the same advice you'd give them, "Don't live there. Just because your family did, doesn't mean YOU have to."

  • Joshua Sep 12, 2007

    "I think the only people allowed to comment on this article should be people that actually LIVE here and KNOW what is going on"

    In that case, the only people who should pay for this bridge are the people who live there.

  • tlcsangels Sep 12, 2007

    I'm wondering...I might drive on Interstate 95 once a year and yet I'm paying for it. Why couldn't we have left it a small road like years ago and save my money? It may take people up there longer to get to work and all but hey a ferry takes us longer. I am a Hatteras Islander and was born and raised here. Every night my son goes to EMT classes on the other side of that bridge he calls me while he is going across concerned about it but knowing learning to be a EMT is important to him. I work and my husband and I run a business (no not real estate). We pay taxes and never asked for anything from the government but safety. If a rock damages a road up in the mountains do we just leave it and make people fly down? NO! Oh also I live in Hatteras village. That is an hour drive from the bridge. Yet I do this. Not to have to wait hours on a ferry. If we lose our economy...welcome to the island you will be supporting with your taxes...we will all be on state aid.

  • hatteras17x Sep 12, 2007

    The majority of tourists who come down here are on our side...and think a new bridge needs to be made ASAP. People who vacation here love this place so much, that they do not care if they have to pay a $2 toll to cross the bridge. I work in a rental agency and speak with tourists everyday about this pending bridge issue. The people that live here might be more passionate about it getting done because it effects us all year long, but those that come down one week a year really do care too.

  • hatteras17x Sep 12, 2007

    Road Geek- your statements have to be the most ignorant that I have ever heard. How about maybe charging tourists a toll to cross the bridge instead of us who live here? You think that the few thousands of people who live on this island caused this much damage to the bridge and has made it a 2 out of 100? HECK NO. It is estimated that 15,000 cars cross the Bonner Bridge per day in the summer time...which is primarily tourist traffic. Why should we (locals) have to pay for that?

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