The long-awaited new bridge over Oregon Inlet opened to traffic Monday at 12:20 p.m.
“It’s a great day for all residents and visitors to the Outer Banks,” said North Carolina Department of Transportation board member Allen Moran said in a news release. “This new bridge will be a critical lifeline to the people and the pristine beaches of Hatteras Island for generations to come.”
Construction began on the state-of-the-art $252 million bridge in March of 2016. The new bridge is 2.8 miles long and rises 90 feet above Oregon Inlet at its highest point, with 8-foot shoulders on each side. It is the first bridge in the state built with stainless reinforcing steel, which will provide extra protection against its salt water environment, NCDOT said. All told, the bridge is built to last 100 years.
The first privately-owned vehicles to travel the bridge went across the southbound side. After paint crews finished work on the southern approach, travelers heading north on N.C. 12 were shifted to the new span.
“We’ve been waiting for this a long time, we just happened to come at the right time,” said local resident John McCoy, who along with his daughter, Emily, were the first to drive across from Hatteras Island.
Beth Midgett of Hatteras and Natalie Kavanagh of Frisco have been at the forefront of getting the replacement built, leading the Hatteras Island “Bridge Moms” effort.
“When we heard the news from your Facebook post, we said ‘We need to go for a ride,'” Kavanagh said.
“We got my mom, Susie, who’s been a big part of ‘Bridge Moms’ and my two five-year-old twins in the backseat in their car seats and we are going safely drive over the new bridge,” Kavanagh said.
Both agreed that it was an emotional moment, and a few tears of joy were being shed crossing the new bridge.
“It gives us security, gives us piece of mind to be able to plan for your future (on the island),” said Midgett. “It’s not only about what goes over it, it’s what goes under it. It’s our power lines, our communication lines.”
“We tried very hard to push for the economic reasons for (the replacement), but it really didn’t resonate with the public and officials,” Kavanagh said, adding that it was the safety issues that eventually came up that lead to getting the new bridge built.
“I’m very happy to say that NCDOT kept the old bridge very safe for us until this one was done, and now we’re excited to drive on the new one today,” Kavanagh said.
The new bridge replaces the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which was built in 1963. With the new bridge open, demolition of the old bridge will begin soon, and is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year. A 1,000-foot section of the south end of the old bridge will remain in place as a pedestrian walkway.
Rain over the last two weeks slowed progress on opening up the new bridge, with not enough dry days for crews to complete painting lines to connect the approaches to Highway 12 at each end.
An informal Community Day event to celebrate completion of the new bridge was held Feb. 9. A more formal dedication of the bridge is being planned for April 2.
Still undecided is a name for the new bridge, which could happen at the state Board of Transportation meeting next week in Raleigh.