I couldn’t see the road because it was covered in water. My Trail Blazer rocked and pitched—the reason I knew that I was unintentionally driving off-road. (Make a note here, folks, 4 wheel-drive is essential in the Outer Banks because roads can suddenly become nonexistent.)
What didn’t I know?
The road (Route 12, which encompasses the Bonner Bridge and is the only road onto Hatteras Island) had just been opened after being closed for days due to the amount of rain that had fallen during the previous week. I guess during the day the road could be seen even if covered by a sheet of water. But at night, no! I’m glad the road was open so that I could get onto Hatteras Island. The cost, though, could have been horrible had I not been knowledgeable of the road and the hazards.
My reason for relating this tale is that the Bonner Bridge/Route 12 through Pea Island is the only land/car access to Hatteras Island, and it is that connection which has resulted in a stalemate in replacing the Bonner Bridge.
Peas Island is a National Wildlife Refuge, which environmentalists wish to protect and preserve. Sounds like an admirable pursuit, right?
Here are a few facts.
- The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is the only means of land access to Hatteras Island not only for residents but also for tourists, fishermen, and others who spend more than $300 million a year in the area.
- The Bonner Bridge was built to allow direct access to Hatteras Island and was opened in 1963. At the time, the estimated lifespan of the bridge was 30 years. As it stands today, the Bonner Bridge has carried the entire vehicular traffic load between Hatteras Island and the rest of Dare County for almost 1 ½ times its originally intended lifespan. The bridge is now approaching its 16th year of duty beyond its initially projected retirement date back in 1993. In 1997, the state Department of Transportation estimated that the useful life of the bridge was only seven more years. That deadline came and went in 2004 with no definitive action on a replacement.
- A North Carolina Department of Transportation Bridge Inspection Report from June, 2006, rated the condition of the existing bridge as "poor." To give an idea of the scope of that rating, on a scale starting at one as its lowest point and going up to 100, the Bonner Bridge rated a two, according to that inspection report.
- This closure [of the bridge] would directly affect access, emergency response, emergency evacuation, and utility service for the residents of Hatteras Island and for the many people who visit each year.
- Average daily traffic flow over the Bonner Bridge exceeds 5,000 vehicles per day, and that number can double to around 10,000 during summer vacation months.
In December of 2010, after 17 years of debate and evaluation through numerous Environmental Impact Statements, the Federal Highway Administration decided to replace the bridge using Option 2. Option 1 was eliminated due to the engineering problems the existing bridge has incurred. Option 3 was eliminated due to excessive cost. The compromise between cost and environmental impact was necessary. With the existing bridge’s score of 2 on a scale of 100, human lives are at stake.
Soil erosion around bridge supports is the leading cause of bridge collapse and it is the reason for Bonner Bridge’s poor safety score.
- Though engineers have not yet determined why the Minneapolis bridge failed, bridge experts said its collapse was not necessarily the result of a physical breakdown. Of the 1,502 recorded bridge failures between 1966 and 2005, almost 60 percent were caused by soil erosion around the underwater bridge supports, according to Jean-Louis Briaud, a civil engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute. (Read more: An Amazing Bridge Collapse Statistic — Urban Workbench.
On July 1, 2011, the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association filed a lawsuit against the NC Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration challenging the December 2010 decision. The building phase of the new bridge would have taken 3.5 years. Now, no one knows if and when a new bridge will be built.
No one would argue that the 2010 decision was an optimal choice because there were none. The decision was a compromise, a necessary one to stave off impeding disaster.
As a writer, I focus on the aberration of murder, especially premeditated murder. I’m watching and waiting for the Bonner Bridge’s collapse. I’m asking myself what constitutes premeditated murder. And I’m hoping that no one dies.
Update: "Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the project until the NEPA regulations are complied with. The judge could dismiss the complaint, schedule a hearing, issue an order from the bench, or a combination of actions. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Chief Judge Louise Wood Flanigan in New Bern. The summons served July 4 on the defendants must be answered within 21 days." The Island Free Press
Let's pray the judge has enough fortitude to dismiss this complaint.