RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Transportation awarded a $216 million contract Tuesday for the design and construction of a new span across Oregon Inlet to replace the aging Bonner Bridge.
The existing 2.7-milebridge connects Hatteras Island to the mainland. It was built in 1962 and has exceeded its expected lifespan.
The new contract comes after more than two decades of debate and environmental studies.
"We've spent 20 years working hard to make a new bridge a reality, and it's exciting to reach this step in the process," said Gene Conti, the state's transportation secretary. "We look forward to starting construction on this critically important project, which will provide a safer, more reliable way for residents and visitors to get from Hatteras Island to the mainland."
Design work is expected to begin in the next few weeks, with construction scheduled to start by the end of 2012. Under the contract, the new bridge is to open by the spring of 2015, with the old bridge demolished by the following year.
Bonner Bridge has long been criticized as too narrow and ill-suited to handle the annual crush of summertime vacation traffic headed to the Outer Banks. DOT has spent $26.5 million in the past 10 years on the old bridge to fix deterioration caused by constant exposure to salt, strong currents and wind.
Conti awarded the contract to PCL Civil Constructors Inc. and HDR Engineering Inc. of the Carolinas. The companies' bid was the cheapest of the three firms competing for the contract, but it also received the lowest technical score from the state officials who reviewed the proposals.
Specifications for the job require the new bridge to be built of stainless steel and corrosion-resistant concrete, while having minimal impacts on Bodie Island and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge during construction. State engineers expect the span to last more than 100 years.
Greer Beaty, a DOT spokeswoman, said the $216 million project is the largest construction contract funded through state and federal tax dollars in North Carolina going back several years.
"People have been looking forward to this for a very long time," Beaty said.