The workers who accidentally drove a steel casing into underground power cables at the Bonner Bridge last week were not using it to drive new pilings at the time but were instead moving the casing to a place where it could be stored temporarily, according to a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Tim Hass said Tuesday that workers were doing cleanup work at the south end of the bridge when the casing, or sleeve, was driven into the ground at about 4:30 a.m. on July 27. The casing damaged two of three underground cables that provide power to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, forcing the evacuation of thousands of tourists during the height of the summer season.
Hass said people from NCDOT were on hand to supervise work at the bridge, as they do on all large projects, but they were at the north end of the bridge, where construction was taking place at the time of the accident. Workers used a crane to put the sleeve into the ground, the way someone might stick a shovel in the dirt when it’s not needed.
“It was cleanup work, material movement. That’s not something that NCDOT personnel are usually on hand for,” Hass said. “The sleeve wasn’t needed, so they were moving it to set it aside until it was needed again. There was not going to be a piling driven there.”
Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, which owns the cables, said Tuesday that it expects power to be restored to the two Outer Banks islands in six to 10 days.
Both NCDOT and the contractor on the project, PCL Civil Constructors Inc., knew about the location of the cables, which were marked on work plans for the new Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet. A spokeswoman for electric cooperative said over the weekend that PCL was taking full responsibility for the accident and had been cooperating with the utility.
The owners of several businesses affected by the evacuation of the islands have filed suit against PCL in Dare County, accusing the company of negligence. Among other claims, the lawsuit says PCL has touted using “innovative construction methods” and an “accelerated schedule” to save NCDOT $60 million on the replacement for Bonner Bridge, compared with proposals from other contractors.
Hass said he couldn’t speculate on whether the schedule PCL was working under contributed to the accident, but he said work on the bridge project has taken place during overnight hours almost since the groundbreaking in March 2016. Overnight work is common on big road projects to try to minimize the impact on traffic.
Hass said that NCDOT will eventually determine what led to the accident but that “right now all of our efforts are on trying to get the power back and helping Cape Hatteras as much as we can.”
The new 2.8-mile Bonner Bridge will cost an estimated $246 million and is expected to begin carrying N.C. 12 over the Oregon Inlet in the fall of 2018. It will replace the existing bridge that was supposed to be good for only 30 years when it opened in 1963; DOT says the new bridge will last 100 years.