Outer Banks highway debate: Rebuild or try something new?

Posted August 30, 2011
Updated August 31, 2011

— It’s a scene Outer Banks residents have seen over and over – a storm washes away part of N.C. Highway 12, and the state spends millions to repair it.

The highway is more than just a road along the coast. Some say it’s a symbol of the famous Outer Banks, a lure for tourists and the lifeline that connects the villages along Hatteras Island.

Now that Hurricane Irene has mangled it so badly that sections of the road have washed away, the debate begins again about whether to rebuild or try something new.

"We're going to do something to allow those (island residents and tourists) access to the mainland," Gov. Beverly Perdue said Tuesday. "They cannot be there without the opportunity to have a road or a bridge or something to get them off."

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said that she also is committed to rebuilding N.C. 12.

"It is a lifeline to the community that has been here for many, many, many years," Hagan said. "It's a way of life that's really a part of North Carolina. I think very much that we need to do what we can to get that open as soon as possible."

Island resident Trip Forman said he and his neighbors count on the road being rebuilt.

"I have a lot of confidence that they'll get it done. As to how quickly they can get it done, I haven't really seen the roads yet, so it's hard to tell," Forman said.

Stanley Riggs, a geology professor at East Carolina University, is one of the people questioning the decision to rebuild. He says the state's efforts to protect N.C. 12 have disrupted the Outer Banks' natural migration toward the west and that, as a consequence, the islands are shrinking.

"Anybody (who) thinks they can put something on the front side of a mobile pile of sand is fooling themselves," Riggs said. “The (barrier islands) are going to collapse. Every time we have a storm now, you're going to see more and more breaches, more and more inlets moving through there."

He suggested scrapping the highway and using high-tech ferries to get people on and off Hatteras Island.

N.C. Highway 12 after Hurricane Irene Should NC Hwy 12 be rebuilt?

On Monday, three conservation groups called on the state to rethink its plan of replacing Bonner Bridge, which connects the north end of the island to the northern Outer Banks. Instead, the state should build a “safer, more reliable access route for Outer Banks residents and tourists,” the groups said.

"The longer bridge option would be less exposed, more reliable and safer for people," according to a joint news release from Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuge Association and Southern Environmental Law Center.

"The state’s present scheme to replace Bonner Bridge at its current location and ignore the repeated, inevitable breaching south of the bridge is irresponsible," said Derb Carter, director of the Carolinas office of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"The state should put reliability and people’s safety first, build the safer, less-exposed ‘long bridge’ that bypasses the most rapidly eroding section of the island and let the ocean take its inevitable course in the wildlife refuge," he added.


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  • gifford99 Sep 2, 2011

    People complaining about spending money on roads or bridges to the Outer Banks are showing ignorance. The tourist industry accounts for 80% of the revenue for the state of North Carolina. The people that rent these houses already pay for the services they get and then some. They pay a 12% hotel tax. When someone rents one of these houses for $5,000 for the week they pay a $600 tax! They pay extra for recycling also. They eat at the restaurants; buy food at the supermarkets, clothes at the stores. And they pay sales tax on every one of these purchases.

    What needs to happen is a more permanent solution for Highway 12, but of course the "environmental groups" have their hands in hampering any progress on the Outer Banks. These outsiders believe they have to step in and save the wildlife. What they are doing is destroying the Outer Banks for all of us. They have closed miles and miles of beaches because someone spotted a bird. Many times, the birds are not even native to the islands.

  • nativson01 Sep 1, 2011

    You people that are against the road here is a solution I have for you. Pay us the value for our homes and properties and for our businesses. Lose our tax revenue for the state and see where you are then. Sooner or later everyone of you in this state will be affected by something that will require help and you'll be looking for it the same way that we are. You just better hope that some of us are not in a position to make a decision on it because we may not be so kind, sort of how some of you are being toward us. The bible says turn the other cheek and we have done that enough. The days of that are over now. You are taking everything from us and we will not stand for it anymore. I hope some of you can live with yourselves and for the rest of you that love the Outer Banks, Help us out we need it now more than ever.

  • roanokeriverwaterfowl Sep 1, 2011

    Lets not fix the Blue Ridge Parkway the next time an avalanche covers it with rocks. Agriculture and tourism are all we have. Eastern NC needs to become a separate state because people in Western NC do not care about our livelihood!

  • sleepwalker Sep 1, 2011

    I love all the comments from the people that 'know' all about the Island and all the solutions to solve this new 'ongoing' problem.So here's a perspective from someone who's family(mothers side) has been on the 'banks' since 1752, you don't have to worry about the true natives of this sand dune. I'm sure they'll still be there(on the high ground)when all the 'beach' houses are floating around in a tidal pool somewhere in the north atlantic.All the 'conviences'(like paved roads)on the Island have been for tourist,so as long as you keep the Life Saving Stations open it will be just suitable.As a kid we took a ferry across Oregon Inlet and most times had to drive down the BEACH at low tide and behind the dunes on high tide.Sandfiddlers swarmed the beaches,the sound was covered in ducks and geese and the fish came in massive schools.Flocks of shore birds(of EVERY discription)totally covered the beaches.What little pavement there was was hazardous as the gulls used it as a 'bombing range' i

  • drussell61 Sep 1, 2011

    I see many comments about a "long bridge" - doesn't make sense to me. You can't have a bridge to each house or business. And what happens when the next breach occurs? Add a new "ramp"? Makes no sense. But, I don't think it's fair everybody in NC pays for hwy12 rebuilds over and over. Maybe it should be a toll road to help pay for "maintenance". The Million Dollar home owners could pay higher taxes? But either way hwy12 must be rebuilt as soon as possible, then decide what happens next time.

  • bjking1421 Sep 1, 2011

    There has to be a better way to handle the bridges and road problems for the Outerbanks. It does not make any financial logic to keep rebuilding something. The tax payers of the Outerbanks do not pay enough money in taxes to cover the cost of bridges to continually be built and replaced. The governor does not have it right when she says that they are tax payers for they deserve a road. Not at my expense! I am however, sympathetic to the residents of the island and do believe that something needs to be done. Maybe building a Hurricane resistant bridge or tunnel.

  • MUSH Aug 31, 2011

    rename it Figure Eight Island II and let the property owners provide their own access

  • dogg63 Aug 31, 2011

    If all you people that think that we should not live on an island, then take a moment and think about where you live at.The west gets earthquakes,the midwest gets tornado'es and the east coast gets hurricanes that ALL taxpayers pay for for reconstruction.Are all of you going to move away from your homes to escape any kind of natural disaster?Probably not. This Island that you talk so badly about is about the only place in the world that I would want to raise my children because there is practicaly no voilent crime WHATSOEVER!!How does the city that you live in hold up to that?Please give the people of Hatteras Island a break when it comes to your negative comments because we,the people of Hatteras Island Know how to band together to survive! TRY THAT IN ANY CITY!!!! By the way ,my name is Cordeye if you should decide to visit our little peice of PARADISE.

  • mrduffin Aug 31, 2011

    "APNewsBreak: NC schools report 847 teacher layoffs"

    Headline today on WRAL. After the state spends millions to fix HWY 12 the state can lay off 847 more...since the money that the outer banks businees pays in taxes only keeps that one road operational. The problem is that the tax money is collected over several years and not the year it is spent. And BillFisher...anyone can live are not special like you think you are!

  • tayled Aug 31, 2011

    It all goes back to where the wise man and the fool builds their homes. Take heed.

    Amen brother!