State Politics

McCrory looks ahead to new Outer Banks bridges

Construction should start next spring on a long-overdue replacement for the jittery old Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks, Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday.

The Southern Environmental Law Center made good last week on a promise to drop state and federal lawsuits that have stalled the bridge project for five years.

SELC and the state Department of Transportation shook hands in June on a compromise that will let DOT build a new bridge parallel to the 52-year-old structure that takes N.C. 12 across Oregon Inlet, linking Hatteras Island to the mainland.

“This marks another historic milestone in finally replacing the critical lifeline bridge for residents and visitors of the Outer Banks,” McCrory said in a news release Tuesday.

The SELC, representing two conservation groups, originally had argued that DOT should replace Bonner with a 17-mile bridge over Pamlico Sound from Bodie Island to Rodanthe.

“We and our clients are pleased bring these cases to a close knowing that under the settlement, NCDOT has committed to better planning and safer, more reliable fixes for Highway 12,” SELC spokeswoman Kathleen Sullivan said Tuesday by email.

Two more bridges are planned south of Oregon Inlet to safeguard travel on sections of the highway threatened by ocean storms and rising sea level:

▪  DOT will spend an estimated $179 million to $198 million for a 2.5-mile bridge that will take N.C. 12 east over Pamlico Sound in a “jug handle” loop to bypass a storm-vulnerable stretch at Rodanthe. The construction schedule has not been set.

▪  And a temporary 600-foot steel bridge erected north of Rodanthe on Pea Island, across a breach opened by Hurricane Irene in 2011, will be replaced by a 3,000-foot structure – also temporary. Construction could start late this year. DOT agreed to consider a permanent bridge that would move N.C. 12 out over the sound here, possibly linking with the Rodanthe jug handle to create a single seven-mile bridge.

DOT and the contractor will negotiate a new price for the Bonner Bridge replacement, originally set at $216 million. Construction will take three years.

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier