Sandy damage will keep Outer Banks bridge, highway closed for weeks

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comNovember 1, 2012 

The state Department of Transportation restored ferry service Wednesday for Outer Banks residents, but visitors were still barred from Hatteras Island – where it will take weeks to fix a bridge and highway damaged this week by Hurricane Sandy.

Emergency repairs will be ordered to replace a guardrail and tension cables on the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet, DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty said.

“Initial inspection of the Bonner Bridge indicates that we can use the bridge for emergency vehicles, but the repairs are needed within the bridge deck,” Beaty said. No underwater problems were found at the bridge.

N.C. 12, the barrier island highway, will need repairs in several spots south of the Bonner Bridge. The hurricane storm surge caused pavement to crack and buckle north of Rodanthe. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released $4 million in emergency relief funds Wednesday to help cover the costs to repair damage on N.C. 12 and U.S. 158 in Dare County.

More than three miles of protective dunes were lost or damaged on Pea Island, and parts of the roadway were covered with sand three to four feet deep. The inlet bridge and the highway north of Rodanthe will not be reopened for traffic until both are repaired.

“That’s going to take several weeks,” Beaty said. Cost estimates and construction schedules are not yet available, she said.

Ferry service limited

Two ferries began serving Hatteras Island and its seven villages, but Dare County officials said it was too early to allow tourists and other nonresidents to return.

The Hatteras Inlet ferry linking Ocracoke Island to the southern end of Hatteras Island began a limited schedule Wednesday, with 10 daily round trips. DOT also continues to run an emergency ferry from Stumpy Point on the mainland to Rodanthe, the northernmost of seven villages on Hatteras Island, with seven daily round trips.

Permits are required for both ferries, which serve Hatteras Island residents, property owners and business employees, along with suppliers, repair crews and other authorized workers. Dare County said the permit requirement will be dropped starting Friday morning, when visitors will again be allowed on the ferries to Hatteras Island.

Ocracoke Island reopens

Meanwhile Wednesday, Hyde County officials said visitors are allowed to return without restriction to Ocracoke Island, which suffered less damage this week.

The two Pamlico Sound ferries linking Ocracoke to the mainland began running their regular fall schedule, with two daily round-trips to Swan Quarter and four to Cedar Island.

DOT is scheduled this winter to award a contract to replace part of N.C. 12 on Pea Island, frequently damaged by hurricanes and other storms, with a 2.5-mile elevated roadway. Construction also is expected to start next year on a Bonner Bridge replacement.

Some air travel restored

Also Wednesday, air travel picked up as airports in the northeastern United States reopened for business in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. New York’s LaGuardia Airport was still closed, but airlines began limited service to the Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports.

“Today we’ve had about 50 cancelled flights, in and out, and we expect that number to increase,” said Mindy Hamlin, spokeswoman for Raleigh-Durham International Airport. “But we are seeing flights take off to the northeast – to New York, to Boston, to Philadelphia.”

The N.C. Army National Guard said Wednesday that three of its UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and 16 aviators in a Salisbury-based unit were dispatched to lead a multi-state helicopter task force in support of storm recovery efforts in the northeast. Members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 131st Aviation Regiment will accompany guard members from Georgia and Alabama to help with search and recovery and rescue operations, and to ferry supplies for disaster relief organizations.

“We are prepared to support our neighbors in the Northeast as long as we need to, to help them recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy,” Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, the state adjutant general, said in a news release.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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