Temporary bridge to help return traffic to Hatteras Island

Posted September 2, 2011 12:00 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2011 6:40 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Transportation plans to install a temporary bridge in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge by the end of September to link Hatteras Island to the mainland again, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Friday.

Hurricane Irene washed out N.C. Highway 12 in the wildlife refuge and several miles to the south, near Rodanthe, cutting off access to the island and stranding hundreds of residents. The storm surge caused other sections of the highway to buckle and chip away.

State transportation engineers consulted with dozens of contractors, scientists and other experts before settling on the idea of the temporary bridge to span the largest hole in N.C. 12. The DOT will use sand and asphalt to fill the hole near Rodanthe and repair other damage.

Perdue said she has secured $10 million in federal funds to pay for the repairs.

The 650-foot metal bridge will be shipped from the manufacturer in 35 truckloads and will be assembled on site. Although the bridge will be capable of handling normal car and truck traffic, officials said, the speed limit will be lowered.

Dare County officials said Thursday that residents of Buxton, Hatteras, and Frisco will be allowed to start returning to Hatteras Island on Sunday. As conditions improve in the island's other villages, their residents will be able to return, officials said.

Tourists won't be able to return to the island until at least Sept. 17, officials said.

The bridge and other temporary repairs will give the DOT time to develop a long-term plan for restoring and protecting N.C. 12, Perdue said.

Engineering experts have questioned the governor's commitment to rebuilding the highway on barrier islands that nature continues to reshape.

"Anybody (who) thinks they can put something on the front side of a mobile pile of sand is fooling themselves," said Stanley Riggs, a geology professor at East Carolina University. “Every time we have a storm now, you're going to see more and more breaches, more and more inlets moving through there."

"They must move (the highway) or lose it," said Orrin Pilkey, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology Earth & Ocean Sciences at Duke University.

Some people have suggested turning N.C. 12 into a toll road, so that people who travel to Hatteras Island would pay for its construction and maintenance. Others have called for scrapping the road altogether and ramping up a ferry system to serve all parts of the island.

Any long-term plan would have to meet guidelines set forth in an environmental impact study.

Locations where N.C. 12 is washed out:

View NC Highway 12 damage in a larger map