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Officials Hope New Bridge Will Attract More People to Outer Banks

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DARE COUNTY, N.C. — A new bridge over the Croatan Sound - whichtourism officials hope will lure more visitors to the Outer Banks -opened Friday with actor Andy Griffith, Gov. Mike Easley and othersmaking the first crossings.

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

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

Lyndo Tippett, secretary of the state Department ofTransportation, 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 theinvocation.

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

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

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

There are a lot of people in North Carolina who head down toMorehead City or Wilmington because it's in their minds thoseplaces are closer," said Carolyn McCormick, executive director ofthe Dare County Tourist Bureau. "This will give them anotheropportunity."

The new $91 million structure between Manns Harbor and Manteopromises to alleviate some big-city-style traffic jams. It's partof 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 outof the county when offshore storms threaten.

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

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

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