Local News

Officials Hope New Bridge Will Attract More People to Outer Banks

Posted August 16, 2002 6:19 a.m. EDT

— A new bridge over the Croatan Sound - which tourism officials hope will lure more visitors to the Outer Banks - opened Friday with actor Andy Griffith, Gov. Mike Easley and others making the first crossings.

Griffith drove his 1935 Packard convertible over the bridge, with his wife, Cindi; Easley and his wife, Mary; and state Attorney General Roy Cooper as passengers. More than 3,000 people attended the opening of the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, which, at 5.2 miles, is the state's longest.

"It's obvious this project means a lot more to more than just Dare County," said Rep. Bill Culpepper, D-Pasquotank. "Our region historically has been isolated from the rest of North Carolina by our rivers and sounds."

Lyndo Tippett, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said the bridge's completion "is helping Gov. Easley fulfill his goal of having one North Carolina."

Griffith, a native of Mount Airy who lives in Manteo, gave the invocation.

The bridge was opened on one side to walkers and bicyclists and to vehicles on the other. Officials planned to close the bridge after the ceremony, clear it of any debris and re-open it to the public later Friday.

The bridge connects the mainland to Roanoke Island and replaces an aging two-lane bridge located farther north.

Tourism officials hope the new span will lure people from the Triangle, Piedmont and western North Carolina, where many people traditionally favor the central and southern coast.

There are a lot of people in North Carolina who head down to Morehead City or Wilmington because it's in their minds those places are closer," said Carolyn McCormick, executive director of the Dare County Tourist Bureau. "This will give them another opportunity."

The new $91 million structure between Manns Harbor and Manteo promises to alleviate some big-city-style traffic jams. It's part of a bypass around the county seat, Manteo, where the existing U.S. 64 is often clogged with miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Getting people out quickly before storms also will be a plus. The bridge will be a key evacuation route off the beaches and out of the county when offshore storms threaten.

During hurricane evacuations in recent years, traffic backed up several miles from stoplights in Manteo to a causeway linking Manteo and Nags Head.

The state has no immediate plans to dismantle the existing Croatan Sound bridge, officially the William B. Umstead Bridge, which will continue to handle some local traffic.