The Oregon Inlet Bridge is the lifeline link for Hatteras and Bodie Islands to the northern portion of the Outer Banks. Prior to the existing bridge, the only way to access Hatteras Island was by air or ferry. Ferries could only carry a maximum of 2,000 people per day. The new bridge opened the area up as a vacation destination and allowed many more people access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore than could be accommodated by the ferry system. It also changed life for island residents with access to the north for food, medical visits and necessary supplies.
In fact, in 1990, a dredge collided with the bridge causing severe damage to the bridge and isolated Hatteras Island residents for almost 6 weeks until it could be repaired. The bridge also had to be closed for 12 days in December 2013 when it was discovered the sand around the pilings had been scoured out by the currents to a level deemed dangerous for travel across the bridge. Ferries were again put into service around the clock to transport people to and from the island. The bridge is a vital link for area residents, visitors and the economic vitality of the area.
After much controversy and delay, the Oregon Inlet Bridge (also called Herbert C. Bonner Bridge) is finally under construction! This bridge replacement project began back in 1989, but was delayed many times due to legal challenges. Most recently, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association. The last of these challenges were resolved in August 2015, allowing the rebuilding process to proceed.
The existing 2.4 mile bridge was built in 1963 with an estimate lifespan of 30 years! The DOT rated the bridge a 4 on a scale of 100; raising residents and visitors concern for the safety of travelers on the bridge. The original cost of the bridge was $4M and allowed 14,000 to cross both ways each day.
The replacement bridge will be 2.8 miles long (3.5 miles total with a new roadway leading up to the bridge). It will cost an estimated $246 Million; and will be opened in the fall 2018 with the project completed by September 2019. The useful life for the new bridge is vastly longer than the old, at 100 years.
The Engineers have specified the use of several materials to be able to get the 100 year life out of the new bridge. It is the only bridge in the state that will use stainless reinforcing steel that has additional protection from salt water corrosion. The new bridge also uses high durability concrete. The bridge pilings will be longer and driven deeper into the seabed to resist scouring that is an issue with the current bridge.
The project is split into 2 phases. Phase I includes building the replacement bridge just to the west of the existing bridge. Phase II includes permanent solutions for breaches caused by hurricane Irene in 2011 where the existing roadway was washed out.
Construction is expected to reach the 50% mark in Jun/July 2017. The bridge is constructed in zones; the south end and north end approaches are completed first with the two sections connected in the middle of the navigation zone. The bridge will have 12′ wide travel lanes and 8′ wide shoulders to improve safety. The existing bridge is not as wide and has no shoulders.
The bridge is also important to boating traffic. The navigable conditions at Oregon Inlet are reportedly some of the worst in the country. The old bridge, with its narrow gap of 130′ between supports, and shifting currents made navigating under the bridge a harrowing experience even for experienced Captains in the area.
The new bridge will be an improvement for boat Captains. The high portion of the new bridge will arch for more than a 3,500 feet with seven navigation spans of 300′ each between the supports; allowing boat traffic to safely pass under the bridge. The current bridge only has one navigational span approximately 150′ wide for boat traffic.
- Construction began: Mar 8, 2016
- Bridge Scheduled to Open: Nov 2018
- Demolition of Existing Bridge: Nov 2018 to Sept 2019
- Project Scheduled Completion: Sept 2019
Benefits to Hatteras and Dare County
Demolition of the old bridge includes using a portion of the material as offshore reef sites. Reefs are a buffer for wind and waves during storm events and help protect the island besides being a habitat for marine life.
At the south end of the bridge, 1,000′ of the bridge will be kept in place and open for pedestrians with an updated rail for safety. This “pier” should be a scenic draw for vacationers and locals alike. Fishing will not initially be allowed on the pier.
The new bridge will bring some peace of mind to residents and vacationers alike. Its economic impact will extend well beyond that. Currently, Hatteras Island generates 25% of Dare County’s $1.2b economy with sales and occupancy taxes and is 17% of Dare County’s $12.5b tax base.
A 2006 Economic Study concluded Oregon Inlet contributes $862m annually to Dare County, supports 9,851 jobs, provides $43m in tax revenues and $45m economic benefit to the Federal Government.
The local boating industry has suffered while the new bridge was being debated and being challenged. Since the mid-sixties the un-stabilized inlet caused the loss of 26 vessels, 21 lives and countless damage to vessels. The shoaling and continued required dredging to keep the single channel open under the old bridge has been a constant struggle and has cause many vessels to relocate to friendlier waters.
The new bridge, with its seven 300′ wide navigation spans will provide more options for boat Captains to navigate the sometimes erratic inlet. The wider channels can migrate somewhat without compromising where the vessels have to pass under the bridge. The new design, with fewer supports, should not need constant dredging to remain open.
The improved navigation under the new bridge will improve the Coast Guards emergency response for Atlantic Ocean rescue missions. The Coast Guard Station is inside Oregon Inlet and needs to navigate through the channel. The shoaling under the old bridge impeded response when the channel was impaired or closed. The Coast Guard responds to about 200 calls annually.
The new bridge is likely to spur activity in related businesses like, commercial fishing, seafood packing, boat building and recreational fishing.
A 2007 study estimated the recreational fishing contributes $667.4m, about 10k jobs (1,445 for-hire fishing jobs) $261.4 in salary and wages, and $49.3m in state and local taxes. Dare County was ranked number 1 in number of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses sold with 93,225 in 2007.
Real Estate Investment
All markets hate uncertainty. The long delay in replacing the Bonner Bridge created uncertainty for property owners on Hatteras Island. The uncertainty is over, and property owners will have safe access to the island for the next 100 years. This will certainly increase real estate and business investment in Hatteras Island. This portion of the Outer Banks is a fisherman’s paradise and a world class venue for Kiteboarding and other water sports. The original bridge spurred vacation home investments to this part of the Outer Banks when initially built and the new bridge will make future investors secure.
A wider more open channel at Oregon Inlet is thought to provide an added benefit to reduce flooding. The inlet would also function as an outlet and flushing valve for the Albemarle/Pamlico Basin, improve water quality and lessen the impact of storms and resulting flooding.
Hatteras Island relies on tourism to support the economy. Most tourist are not aware of the condition of the existing Bonner Bridge, but may have been impacted by when storms washed out other portions of the road. Phase II of the project should correct these conditions to allow continued access to their vacation rental homes.
The Outer Banks has been spared from the most severe repercussion of storms and hurricanes but in the event of an evacuation, the ability to get people away from the barrier island becomes imperative and must be completed within 72 hours. The Bonner Bridge and the other bridges will ensure evacuations can be safely and efficiently operated.
If you are considering a vacation home purchase, second home purchase or permanent home, now is the time to act. If you have considered selling your Outer Banks home, now may be the best time. The lower inventory levels will allow your property to be seen with less competition and the strong demand will sell your home with fewer days on the market
The Outer Banks rental market continues to be strong to provide income from the investment and enjoyment for the family for years to come. The Outer Banks continues to be named a top beach destination every year. For more information on buying Outer Banks Real Estate, or selling Outer Banks Real Estate or to learn more about the Outer Banks in general, please check out our blog.