Work Continues on Final Section of I-69 Project

Two Variations Remain on Table for Bonner Bridge Replacement

Wed August 29, 2007 - Southeast Edition
CEG



NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP) A replacement plan for the bridge that connects Hatteras Island with the mainland remains up in the air because a panel of officials couldn’t agree on which plan to endorse.

With the deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis fresh in their minds, some local residents said they were disappointed that the state and federal agency representatives couldn’t agree.

“Obviously, it’s a turf war; they’re protecting their own egos,” said Beth Midgett, chairwoman of Dare County’s Citizen Action Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge.

“They care less about the people that have to drive over this bridge every day. I think they’ve lost sight of the mission to protect the public safety.”

The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which opened in 1963, has a sufficiency rating of 2, with 100 being the best. State transportation officials say it is safe to cross, however, and a repair project is scheduled to start later this year.

There are basically variations of two plans to replace the 2.5-mi. (4 km) bridge: a short bridge built parallel to the existing one that would cost approximately $191 million and two versions of a 17.5-mi. (28 km) bridge that bypasses Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge that would cost approximately $786 million.

The short version also includes new plans for N.C. 12 south of the bridge, including relocating the road and short, elevated bridges. The cost of improving the road is not included in the cost of the shorter bridge.

Several agencies, including the state Transportation Department, have endorsed the short bridge, while some environmental groups support the longer one. The DOT supports a phased approach to replacing the bridge by first building a span near the current location, then dealing with N.C. 12 issues.

In May, the DOT announced that it was recommending what it called the phased approach to replacing the 2.5-mi. bridge. The first step would be to build a bridge near the current location, and then add smaller bridges on N.C. 12 as dictated by the erosion rate.

The decision now skips a mid-level part of the decision-making process and goes directly to a higher level.

“Typically, it will go to a merger implementation team,” said DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca. “It’s going to bypass that and go straight to a review board.”

Rob Hanson, eastern project development engineer for DOT, said the review board was scheduled to meet Aug. 27. The members are upper-level officials with the Army Corps of Engineers, the DOT, the Federal Highway Administration, and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.