Hundreds of residents and visitors were in line at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, to be among the first folks to take in the views from the Jug Handle Bridge, which is expected to open to vehicular traffic in mid-April.
Following the morning’s inaugural Run the Rodanthe Race, which attracted roughly 600 participants, the afternoon Community Day was an opportunity for the public to walk, run, or ride a bike on the structure, as well as a chance to celebrate the bridge’s imminent opening.
“We’re celebrating a dream that has finally come true,” said Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman, Bob Woodard, before the bridge was opened to the public. “This magnificent bridge represents the culmination of a lot of hard work. As the Board of Commissioners, we salute those who made this dream come true.”
“[This bridge] will be a pathway to many things,” added Woodard. “A pathway to medical care for residents and visitors, a pathway for educational opportunities for young people, and a pathway for economic development, and the tourism revenue that flows in and out of Hatteras Island, which represents an economic impact of over $366 million dollars a year.”
“Like our ancestors before us, we find solutions to deal with the punches Mother Nature throws our way,” said Hatteras Island Commissioner Danny Couch. “And so it is with us today – finding long term, lasting solutions [for the] waters that so often disrupt our lives.”
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony with NCDOT representatives and Dare County officials, crowds of people started to make their way on a lengthy stroll, snapping pictures and taking in the views along the way. The trek was 2.4 miles from end to end, but the length did not stop attendees from enjoying the full route in sunny and slightly windy weather.
The bridge will remain open to pedestrians and bikes until 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. Traffic was moving slowly through Rodanthe due to the crowds, and delays will likely continue until Saturday evening. Folks heading through the Rodanthe area should allow for extra travel time.
The Jug Handle Bridge is considered part of Phase II of the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project, and is the final bridge of the three new bridges on Hatteras Island to be built. (The Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge on Pea Island was completed in the spring of 2018, and the Bonner Bridge replacement was completed in 2019.)
Once open to traffic, the Jug Handle Bridge will connect the southern portion of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to northern Rodanthe, bypassing the S-Turns section of N.C. Highway 12, which is highly susceptible to breaches and ocean overwash during storms.
More information on the bridge project, which includes project history, maps, documents, and videos, can be found at https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/nc-12-rodanthe/Pages/default.aspx.
This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.