Safety concerns prompt DOT to close Hatteras bridge

Posted December 3, 2013

— 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.

Bonner Bridge DOT closes Hatteras bridge, tries to prevent tragedy

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.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • tceawvzwvpev Dec 6, 2013

    The lawsuit was filed in 2011. The SELC and DOT were in agreement about the long bridge until 2003. What happened?

  • golorealist Dec 6, 2013

    i love how opponents like to refer to the outer banks as sandbars. ignorance is bliss.

  • Capt Mercury Dec 4, 2013

    Why was this bridge built in 1963 and not replaced in 1993?

    In 1963 we thought atomic energy would power the world at little or no cost, and we thought this bridge was a good idea.

    In the mean time we learned better on both accounts.

    Let Hatteras Island be the shifting sandbar that mother nature made it. Ocracoke Island is still a tourist attraction and we don't have to keep a bridge there.

  • btneast Dec 4, 2013

    OK The bridge was built in 1963 and was suppose to last 30 years. That puts it good thru 1993. So why hasn't something been done before now. Gotta love government

    Not for a lack of effort. The state has been trying to build the bridge for many years, but are mired in legal battles with enviromentalists .

  • makemyday Dec 4, 2013

    OK The bridge was built in 1963 and was suppose to last 30 years. That puts it good thru 1993. So why hasn't something been done before now. Gotta love government.

  • btneast Dec 4, 2013

    Where was the beloved Marc Basnight who was in office for all the years this bridge issue was brewing?

    The delays are on a federal level....beyond anything the legislature or Governor can affect. The bridge has been held up in court for many years from lawsuits from environmental groups. It also requires approval from the National Park Service....and they have been dragging their feet mightily. NC has done all they can do

  • colinmb123us Dec 4, 2013

    yankee1 - Since your conservative partners are the ones that are the ones looking for handouts and have imposed some of the largest tax increases on the rich (look it up) starting back with Abraham Lincoln who imposed a higher tax on those making over $10k back in 1864 which was removed, by democrat Andrew Jackson, in 1867. Taft, a repulican, reimposed tax rates adjusted for income. Hurbert Hoover, another Republican, increased the tax rates on the rich from 25% to 63% in 1932, it would seem that they are just as guilty of sticking it to the rich. It wasn't until Kennedy, a democrat, did the income tax rate start a steady decrease on the rich in 1964. Since history isn't a conservatives strong suit, I can understand your belief that the Democrats are always the bad guys and since YOU always make reference to liberals looking for their handouts, government aid is well within the scope when measuring who is looking to stick it to the rich and successful.

  • rocket Dec 4, 2013

    "rocket, I don't care about those who work there. Let them find other jobs. That entire area is becoming too commercial as it is. Such a shame"

    Unless you live there you have no stake in whether or not the area is "too commercial". How would you feel if you had to relocate because some pompus outsider decided the place you live and work should be deserted?

  • hp277 Dec 4, 2013

    You must live in the Garner/Clayton area. Funny how priorities are defined by how folk's are impacted personally. There is no other option, short of taking a ferry, that these citizens have to get to their homes and or jobs. 70 sucks and it is crowded, but it is still drivable.
    Vote for Pedro
    December 4, 2013 11:13 a.m.

    Nope - I live on the other side of the Triangle and never use I-40 for commuting. But there are more people who drive I-40 in the Triangle in an hour than there are who use the Bonner Bridge all day - even in the summer.

    Let the few folks who live out there use the ferry, just like they did before the bridge was built. The money would be better spent helping many more people navigate the urban areas of the state - the part of the state that is growing and contributing to the tax base. You could widen I-40 from Clayton to Hillsborough for what these bridges will cost.

  • usocrazi Dec 4, 2013

    I do not understand the article. "On Monday, DOT officials declared the bridge open and safe for travel after noting over the weekend that the span needed repairs." And on Tuesday the DOT closed it.