Jim Baugh & Donna Bozza
“Sail on Silver Girl, Sail On By.”
Yes, it is true. Even Simon and Garfunkel would have a serious problem crossing the now determined-not-to-be-safe closed Bonner Bridge. The North Carolina, Outer Banks span that connects Bodie Island to Pea Island over the ever-changing, treacherous waters of Oregon Inlet. If the singing duo were heading south from Nags Head and wanted to gig some Nights in Rodanthe, then like the rest of us they had better find safe passage to Stumpy Point, NC.
Of course, structural bridge disasters are no laughing matter as history proves.
- Point Pleasant, West Virginia, December 16, 1967 the SilverBridge, 46 people killed.
- Vancouver, June 17, 1958 the Second Narrows Bridge, 19 souls lost.
- Melbourne, Oct 15, 1970 the West Gate Bridge, 35 people perished.
- Kansas City, July 17, 1981 the Hyatt Regency Footbridge, 114 people died.
- Tennessee, April 1, 1989 the Hatchie River Bridge, 8 people killed.
- Minneapolis, August 1, 2007 the I-35 Bridge, 13 people died and 145 were injured.
Would you have wanted to be on one of these bridges at the time of their demise?
Citing safety concerns NCDOT recently closed the Bonner Bridge, the lifeline to Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks that resulted in Dare County declaring a state of emergency for the island.
A huge thanks to the authorities for making the difficult decision to shut off land access to the lower Outer Banks rather than risk lives. Thanks also to the authorities who immediately set up the new, toll-free ferry routes from Stumpy Point to Rodanthe, NC. As much as I love traversing Oregon Inlet for the fishing grounds, under these circumstances I rather do it by ferry. Being another bridge disaster stat is not on my Bucket List.
The 50-year-old Bonner Bridge was only designed to be a 30-year bridge. The constant change in the sandy bottom has made maintenance on the bridge a continuous challenge since the inlet shifts south on average a 100 feet per year. To illustrate the change consider the Bodie Island Lighthouse that once stood at the margin of the inlet. It is now some three miles north.
Pretty dramatic –much like the creation of the inlet itself in 1846 when a massive hurricane swept through the area creating a gash in the sand between Pea Island and Bodie Island. Drama is a big part of the Outer Banks’ appeal, the excitement of untamed nature –what wild beauty will she create next out of wind and water? It’s why so many of us love to visit.
Of course, practical considerations must be made for those who call the Outer Banks home, along with tourists. The Bonner Bridge being 20 years past its prime begs the question, why isn’t there a new bridge in place or at least underway?
The answer lies between two camps, each with a different solution for the aging bridge –and these camps are at war.
Much like the allied forces trying to stop the bridges in Germany during World War ll, a similar war is happening between Dare County officials and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Camp 1: Dare County, NCDOT, and the people of Hatteras Island.
This camp strongly believes the Bonner Bridge should be replaced with a new Bonner Bridge adjacent to the current site. The people of Dare County have good reasons for wanting this as the location provides a direct, continuous lifeline to Hatteras Island. It also cost substantially less than the longer proposed bridge traversing the Pamlico Sound.
Lawsuits have plagued the progress of replacing the Bonner Bridge. The legal cost for fighting the opposition is not only delaying construction but could possibly be impacting the funds used for current bridge maintenance.
“The additional stall tactics of the SELC continue to put a strain on taxpayer money and our ability to keep this vital lifeline open for the people of eastern North Carolina and the millions of visitors who travel to the area each year,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “As the federal judge’s ruling confirmed last month, NCDOT cares about the economy, the environmental impact, and the people in all that we do.”
In a nutshell, Camp 1 wants environmental lawsuits dropped to green light the second incarnation of the Bonner Bridge.
Camp 2: Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and other environmentalist and conservation groups.
This camp does not believe that a replacement Bonner Bridge in basically the same location is a wise move. They are in favor of the more expensive construction goal of building a much longer bridge that would span the Pamlico Sound. [It would be roughly the size of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel that connects the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and points north.] This plan is promoted as being a safer, long-term option with less environmental impact. Their stand directly from the SELC website:
“In violation of law, the Federal Highway Administration and N.C. Department of Transportation’s planned replacement fails to include how they will maintain Highway 12 through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, an exposed oceanfront stretch of road that is expected to become increasingly eroded over coming years. The illegal plan is unsafe and unreliable for residents, travelers, and businesses with undisclosed costs and impacts, not only to taxpayers, but also to those residents, businesses, and coastal environment. By ignoring the inherent flaw in their plan, the agencies trap the state and its residents into hidden costs and environmental damage of continually trying to maintain the road and proposed additional bridges through the refuge against the persistent power of the ocean. The costs will likely be much higher, and incurred much sooner, than estimated.”
Currently Camp 2 is appealing a judge’s decision that was in favor of NCDOT and plans for the replacement Bonner Bridge. While Camp 1 Dare County is screaming, “Let it go! Stop this! Drop the lawsuits!”
BOTH camps have valid arguments; neither in my opinion is 100% wrong or right. Both parties believe they are fighting for what is best for the public and environment and respectfully so.
While the lawsuits are being battled the people who are the most affected, in many ways stranded, are the fine folks on Hatteras Island. Tourists who are vital to the area’s economy are also in a quandary. They love visiting and spending their money on the island that always delivers an excellent Outer Bank experience.
Fortunately, the new ferry route is in place and working. OBX transportation folks are experts in floating people and their vehicles. And the ferries launch the charm of an island adventure!
Some travelers have had long waits while others none at all, a lot can depend on what time you take the ferry. Since this is a new operation and things are changing almost daily, I would suggest contacting the ferry and asking for the off-peak hours of its Stumpy Point route and plan accordingly.
What can we do to help the folks on Hatteras Island now?
Believe it or not, December- March is one of my favorite times to go to Hatteras Village. We have filmed some great Tuna fishing over the years there and I always love going to Hatteras during the off-season. The privacy is so peaceful and the beauty is not limited to any one season.
I talked to tourism director Lee Nettles in Manteo and he agreed. The next few months are a wonderful time to head down and support Hatteras Island. It’s the perfect excuse to plan a Coastal Couples Getaway and enjoy the serenity.
Manteo is a great layover stop on the way down for a romantic evening with your sweetheart. The next morning head out early to Stumpy Point and enjoy the new ferry ride to Rodanthe. When you get to Rodanthe, you can see where the famous “Nights in Rodanthe” house was, and is now further south down the road. Yes, they moved the famous movie home to a new location, refurbished and all.
When I stay in Hatteras Village, I do a great deal of cooking. They have wonderful kitchens with everything you need to fix up some coastal cuisine delights. Bring a cooler on your way down and buy some local fresh seafood. Maybe whip up a fresh seafood linguine in your condo at Hatteras Village. Man, I wish I were there now! Love the place!
The fact is that the good folks of Hatteras Island need your support and tourism dollars –and after the holiday madness, we all deserve some restful solitude. Be a little patient with the new ferry ride if need be. Hey relax you’re on island time.
Here is another nice bonus! There are businesses like hotels and restaurants that are offering discounts due to the temporary rerouting from Stumpy Point to Rodanthe. For more and current information just call the tourism office in Manteo. 877-629-4386.
I am planning our trip back to Hatteras right after the holidays. Starting the New Year off with some mirth and surf is a good way to go. Maybe we will see you there!
Ferry schedule below Stumpy Point/Rodanthe
Departing from Stumpy Point: 3:30a.m., 5, 6:30, 8, 9:30, 11, 12:30p.m., 2, 3:30, 5, 9:30, and 11.
Departing from Rodanthe: 1:30a.m., 6, 7:30, 9, 10:30, noon, 1:30p.m, 3, 4:30, 6, 7:30, and midnight.
Chow, tight lines, and good reads!
Jim Baugh & Donna Bozza
Jim Baugh Outdoors 25th Anniversary
Photo Credits: Harvey Eugene Smith, Jim Baugh, Donna Bozza, Creative Commons, JE Levine, NCDOT, Mike Nichols/Lawrence Turman .
Tourism office in Manteo NC. 877-629-4386.
NCDOT Ferry Routes http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/ferryroutes/