It's hard to go to the beach in North Carolina without crossing a bridge, over a river, sound, inlet or the Intracoastal Waterway.
The most famous of those bridges, the Bonner Bridge connecting Hatteras Island with the mainland over Oregon Inlet, is being replaced, and if you haven't seen it in a while you may be surprised. The $246 million replacement — longer, wider and for most of its length taller than the original — is scheduled to be completed late this fall nearly 30 years after the N.C. Department of Transportation began planning for it.
But the Bonner Bridge is not the only coastal bridge project in the works. Bridges that carry residents and visitors to the beach are being repaired or replaced, or soon will be, up and down the coast. Here's a guide to what's in the works:
Gallants Channel, Beaufort: If you haven't been to Beaufort in a while, you may be a bit disoriented getting into town. The drawbridge that used to carry U.S. 70 from Morehead City over Gallants Channel into the heart of Beaufort closed for good on May 15.
Instead, U.S. 70 now swings north over the channel on a 65-foot-tall bridge as part of the new Beaufort Bypass. Two lanes on the four-lane bridge opened in January, while the other two lanes opened in April.
To get from the new Beaufort Bypass into town, drivers will turn on to another new bridge, on Turner Street, on the far side of the Gallants Channel bridge. The two bridges and the four-lane bypass road cost $66.4 million to build.
Harkers Island: The two bridges that combine to connect Harkers Island to the mainland will be replaced by a single span, but construction isn't expected to begin until 2020. The new $36 million bridge, which will rise 45 feet above the channel, will eliminate the need for the swing span on the Earl C. Davis Memorial Bridge, which now brings traffic to a halt when it opens for boats.
The Davis bridge will be dismantled, but the other existing bridge that connects the center island with the community of Straits will remain, to allow people to walk out to the Straits Fishing Pier.
Topsail Island: If you take the swing bridge that carries N.C. 50/210 into Surf City, you'll see that work is well underway on its replacement just to the southwest. The new bridge isn't expected to open until September 2019, though the contractor can earn up to $3 million in incentives if it can get the work done early.
The $54 million bridge will have two lanes for cars, two lanes for bicycles and a 10-foot-wide multi-use path separated from the road with a concrete barrier. There will be roundabouts instead of traffic lights at either end of the bridge, which will have 65 feet of clearance over the water at its peak to let sailboats and fishing trawlers pass under.
Oak Island: The G.V. Barbee Bridge between Southport and Oak Island is scheduled to be closed for repairs for six months starting this fall. NCDOT plans to close the bridge from mid-October, after the U.S. Open King Mackerel Fishing Tournament, until the middle of April. The goal is to have the work completed and the bridge reopen before Easter weekend.
Rodanthe: Just south of the Bonner Bridge, where N.C. 12 passes through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, you may soon notice work beginning on a 2.4-mile bridge that will carry the road out into Pamlico Sound. The so-called jug handle bridge, because of its shape, will not only bypass the wildlife refuge but also take N.C. 12 off a path that's particularly prone to being covered with water and sand during storms.
NCDOT has acquired all the right-of-way it needs for the $145 million project, and the contractor, Flatiron Constructors, should begin work soon. The bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic in late 2020.
Wright Memorial Bridge: The eastbound lanes of this bridge over the mouth of Currituck Sound at Kitty Hawk were closed over the winter for resurfacing. That part of the project is done, but there's still some work to be done under the bridge, and there will be occasional lane closures during the week this summer. But on weekends, all four lanes will be open.
Alligator River Bridge: This two-lane bridge that carries U.S. 64 between Tyrell and Dare counties is undergoing a complete overhaul that won't be done until September 2019. NCDOT shut the bridge down for a week twice this winter while contractors worked on the swing span.
Work on the rest of the bridge continues and will result in periodic lane closures that allow traffic to move in only one direction at a time — but only on weekdays. No lanes will be closed on weekends from May 1 through September.
Mid-Currituck Bridge: The plans to build a seven-mile, two-lane toll bridge from south of Coinjock to Corolla on the Outer Banks were put on hold a few years ago, but are moving forward again. The state is reviewing the environmental studies that were completed in 2012 to see if they need to be updated. But the financing for the $440 million project has not yet been settled, and no construction dates have been set.
Have I left any out? Please let me know.