SELC Statement on NCDOT’s Closure of Bonner Bridge

The National Wildlife Refuge Association and Defenders of Wildlife, represented by Southern Environmental Law Center, continue to advocate for reliable and safe transportation on the Outer Banks.  The recent closure of the Bonner Bridge shows just how devastating the frequent bridge closures and road washouts along NC 12 can be for island residents.   The state’s current decision not to invest in a long-term solution for Hatteras Island is likely to have catastrophic consequences for years to come.

NCDOT’s plan to build new bridges in the exact same places over Oregon Inlet and along NC-12 will cause the exact same problems that led to the current bridge closure and recent road closures: the ocean will continue to scour the new bridges and erode the road, NCDOT admits its proposed bridges will end up in the ocean, and the people of Hatteras Island will continue to be stranded by NCDOT’s poor planning for decades to come.

NCDOT’s inability to secure all the necessary permits for its faulty plan to build a new bridge in the same unstable location is delaying construction of any new bridge.  In 2003, NCDOT and the Secretary of Transportation warned Dare County officials that if they pushed for a replacement plan that could not receive the necessary permits, it “will only cause further delay.”  But NCDOT noted that to get what they wanted, Dare County officials were “willing to take the risk that Bonner Bridge might deteriorate to the point that it would be closed to traffic.”

One way around these continuous problems is a more reliable and safer bridge through the Pamlico Sound. NCDOT and other agencies supported such a bridge in 2003 — a bridge that was scheduled to be completed and open to traffic in 2010.  But Dare County officials stopped construction on the project.

We understand that a longer bridge has a higher upfront cost, and repeatedly offered to work with NCDOT to find a way to truly invest in a long-term solution to meet the transportation needs of the Outer Banks for generations to come.  During the latest legislative session, we argued for more transportation construction funding to be made available to this part of the state and were disappointed that the McCrory administration, including NCDOT, did not support that position.

We engaged in discussions with NCDOT to search for a more reliable route that avoids areas prone to wash-out and were very discouraged when NCDOT abruptly ended those discussions recently.

We urge NCDOT to invest immediately in better backup transport services for Hatteras residents and visitors so they do not have to wait for hours every time NC 12 is closed.  Washouts and shutdowns of NC 12 will continue and Hatteras Island residents will be stranded as long as NCDOT insists on routing traffic along the same unreliable route in the same ocean-exposed locations repeatedly subject to scouring and wash outs.  NCDOT cannot stop high tides and storms, but it can change its plan to one that will better serve Hatteras Island.

We were surprised to see the Bonner Bridge closed so suddenly, without warning to the public after the bridge had been declared safe for travel just days before.  SELC submitted a public records request seeking information regarding NCDOT’s abrupt decision and the reasons behind it.

In the meantime, we hope to see the Bridge reopened as quickly as possible, and for all parties to work together to find a long-lasting solution for Hatteras Island.

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