Safety concerns prompt DOT to close Hatteras bridge
Posted December 3, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Department of Transportation closed the Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks on Tuesday because of immediate safety concerns, leaving residents and others waiting hours in a long line, hoping to board a ferry.
Routine sonar scanning identified areas where too much sand has eroded from the support structure, a process known as "scour," officials said. As department crews continued to monitor the conditions, inspections revealed additional areas of concern, leading to the decision to close the bridge, which is the only land link to Hatteras Island.
"You don't want to have a near miss as an engineer," said Pablo Hernandez, a DOT resident construction engineer. "We just felt we were not comfortable ... As an engineer, that is what we are trying to prevent – a tragedy – and that is why we closed the bridge."
On Monday, DOT officials declared the bridge open and safe for travel after noting over the weekend that the span needed repairs.
“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,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said in a 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 DOT has declared a state of emergency as a way of expediting the repair process, and officials said steps are already underway to begin repair work as soon as possible.
Starting Wednesday, the department's Ferry Division will shuttle people and vehicles between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe until the bridge reopens, officials said. At full capacity on a full schedule, the emergency ferry route can handle 760 cars a day. This time of year, as many as 3,000 vehicles typically used the bridge each day.
Tolls 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 Bonner Bridge was designed to last 30 years when it was built in 1963, and crews have been making frequent repairs to it in recent years. The last time the bridge was closed for a non-storm related safety concern was in 1990 when a barge hit the bridge.
"We've done a lot of work to the column, to the footings and to the underside of the bridge deck," resident engineer Pablo Hernandez said in September.
The DOT awarded a contract two years ago to design and build a replacement bridge, but all work is on hold because of legal challenges by environmental groups.
"They've been working for years to get this replaced – since I was in high school and I'm now 40," Natalie Perry, a Hatteras Island resident, said Tuesday in a Facetime interview.
Perry said she is now stranded on the island with her three children, including newborn twins.
"My husband and his father were on the other side of the bridge – about two hours away – doing some work. So, now they're stuck, and I'm here on my own with my twins," she said, adding that her husband is without his insulin, which is at their house.
"All of our lives depend on that bridge," she said.