The Bonner Bridge is the only highway link between Hatteras Island and mainland Dare County and also serves as a major route for electric and telecommunications lines onto the island.
For years though, battering storms and crumbling infrastructure have compromised the integrity of the bridge, leading to costly repairs without long-term solutions.
Constructing a new bridge parallel to the current Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet has long been the favored option, with a $215.8 million construction contract awarded in August 2011 to PCL Civil Constructors.
That momentum though was halted by a pair of lawsuits filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association that sought to halt the construction based on environmental reasons.
On Monday, Federal Judge Louise Flanagan denied that motion and ruled in favor of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
In the order, Flanagan wrote "the court finds that the agencies have taken a "hard look" at the Project's environmental effects."
In a statement, State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata expressed “This is a great day for residents and millions of visitors to the Outer Banks, and a historic day for North Carolina. We want to thank Judge Flanagan for her ruling.”
“We’ve spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money keeping the existing bridge open and we know it stands on borrowed time,” said Tata.
With the federal ruling in their favor, another hurdle remains for NCDOT before construction on the new bridge can begin. They must now settle a similar complaint from SELC at the state level so that environmental permits can be obtained.
Since the beginning of the replacement process in 1989, over $56 million in repairs, inspection and maintenance has been spent on the 50-year-old bridge.
Next week, the first of two more repairs to the current bridge will begin to keep it in service until the new Bonner Bridge can be built.
Starting Monday, September 23, 2013 a one lane section of the bridge will close. The section will be between a half-mile and mile long so Coastal Gunite Construction Co. can access parts of the bridge to make $388, 910 worth of concrete repairs.
The concrete repairs are slated to take place in the same area that a large section of concrete fell from the bridge on Tuesday, according to a Facebook page maintained by NCDOT. No one was injured.
The second repair project to start later this month will cost $1.4 million and will include repairs to the supports of the bridge.