RALEIGH, North Carolina — Just how many road projects are in play on Hatteras Island?
The state Transportation Department said this week that it's delaying construction of a bridge at Pea Island until the court case involving the longer span to the north, the Bonner Bridge, is settled. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers may finish dumping sand on the beach near the S-curves at Rodanthe in an effort to protect N.C. Highway 12 until a bridge can built there.
Here's a rundown of the projects on N.C. 12 on the 42-mile-long Hatteras Island, starting with the Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet and going south to a hot spot that Hurricane Isabel created in 2003 between Frisco and Hatteras.
"There's a lot going on down there," said Jerry Jennings, DOT division engineer for the area that includes the Outer Banks.
— BONNER BRIDGE: This bridge, the only link to the mainland from Hatteras Island, had a projected lifespan of 30 years when it was built in 1963. Environmentalists have tangled for years in court about what should replace the 2.5-mile-long bridge with the most recent ruling coming last month from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court overruled a federal judge's order last September allowing North Carolina an exception to laws protecting a wildlife refuge.
The state Department of Transportation issued a $215 million contract to build a structure parallel to the existing bridge. That work is on hold because of the appeals court ruling.
Environmentalists favor a 17-mile bridge that would bypass the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. That route would require building the second-longest bridge in the United States at a cost of more than $1 billion, state transportation officials said.
It would take at least two years to build the parallel bridge, Jennings said. Meanwhile, workers inspect and repair the bridge to keep it safe and functional; it has a sufficiency rating of 4 on a scale that goes to 100, Jennings said.
— PEA ISLAND BRIDGE: A temporary bridge was built near the wildlife refuge after Hurricane Irene sliced a new channel through the island in 2011, connecting the Atlantic to the sound. The inlet shut off road access for six weeks until crews completed a steel bridge one-eighth of a mile long. This state issued a $79 million contract to build a longer, permanent bridge, then suspended that construction this week until the issues with the Bonner Bridge are settled in court.
The only work done so far has been to shift traffic to make room to build the bridge and construction of test pilings, Jennings said.
— S-CURVES at RODANTHE: Workers should finish placing about 1.7 million cubic yards of sand along about 2 miles of beach in this area, which was already one of the narrowest on the island before Hurricane Sandy caused more damage in 2012. "The intent of what we're doing there is to provide some buffer between the road and the ocean and to give us some time to find a permanent solution at that location," Jennings said of the $20 million project.
Gov. Pat McCrory and DOT Secretary Tony Tata visited the area after Sandy, with the governor declaring an emergency because of the threat to N.C. 12 from the erosion.
— BUXTON: From the north, this town, home to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, is the fifth on Hatteras after the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, and Avon. Its north end is a "hot spot" for beach erosion that results in ocean overwash in some storms. DOT is doing a feasibility study to investigate options to protect N.C. 12 there, Jennings said. Meanwhile, Dare County is pursuing its own beach nourishment project in the area in hopes of preventing the same problems in Rodanthe, county manager Bobby Outten said Thursday.
The project is in its early stages with county officials talking with engineers earlier this week, he said. The county wants to "nourish the Buxton beach so it never gets to the level of Rodanthe, where the road closed if the wind blew hard out of the northeast," he said.
Sand and standing water cover the Buxton section of road after a storm, which is how the troubles started in Rodanthe, leading to the emergency situation with the pavement washing away, he said.
The state's interest also is N.C. 12, not private property, Jennings said. "Our responsibility is to protect the road," he said. "If there's some secondary benefits to other properties, then that's fine. But the purpose of any project would be to protect the transportation corridor."
— BETWEEN FRISCO AND HATTERAS: The state is doing a feasibility study on a hot spot here, between the last two villages on Hatteras Island, where Hurricane Isabel created an inlet in 2003, Jennings said.
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