Dare County

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US Fish and Wildlife/Bonner Bridge

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Herbert C. Bonner Bridge Fact Sheet

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.
Additional maintenance and rehabilitation is needed to keep the bridge open until the new bridge is built. A new bridge is necessary because the existing Bonner Bridge has reached the end of its reasonable service life, and there is continued - and even increasing - demand for convenient daily travel and emergency access across Oregon Inlet.

This closure 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. An emergency ferry service plan would allow for only 1,300 vehicles per day to move onto and off the island - 650 each way. This would effectively cut the flow of traffic between Hatteras Island and the rest of Dare County by 75 percent and by about 87 percent during the peak season.

History of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
Bonner Bridge was built to span Oregon Inlet and was completed in 1963 with much fanfare. It is named for a U.S. congressman from North Carolina . In 1990, a dredge hit the bridge and damaged several spans. For many months, Hatteras Island could be reached only by boat or plane, while portions of the bridge were replaced.

The bridge was also closed for damage repair in 1983 when a span of the bridge began to sag and had to be reinforced. Repairs have been made on the bridge in at least three different decades. The most recent repair projects were in the summer of 2005 and right now.

Impact on Hatteras Island
•  In 2007, Hatteras Island accounted for 37.1% ($94,032,169) of occupancy and 13% ($24,306,505) of meals.
•  In 2005, Hatteras Island accounted for 20% of taxable property values with 8,320 taxable parcels valued at $3.1 billion. Another 348 parcels are federally owned and tax exempt and include the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, areas that people from all over the United States come to enjoy pristine beaches, surfing, bird watching, and fishing.
•  Year-round Population: 4,001, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, which is the most current data.
•  Seasonal Population of Hatteras Island is estimated at 50,000
•  Ocracoke Island has a population of 800, according to the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association.
Vehicular Use (figures provided by NC Department of Transportation & NCDOT Ferry Division)

•  Oregon Inlet Bridge Traffic Counts(in numbers of vehicles)






Bonner Bridge










According to NCDOT (Raleigh Office), an average 5,100 vehicles crossed the Oregon Inlet Bridge daily in 2006.






Ocracoke/Hatteras Ferry--Vehicles






Hatteras Ferry




128,657-1/2 yr






Ocracoke/Hatteras Ferry--Passengers






Hatteras Ferry




139,574-1/2 yr


Visitation (figures provided by National Park Service, Cape Hatteras Division)






• Cape Hatteras National Seashore




• Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Visitor Center




• Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Climbers





Pea Island Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center averages 60,000 people in the Visitors Center each year.

Timeline of Progression toward Bridge Construction
November 1993 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) approved
February 1994 Public Hearings Held: Preferred alternative to construct new bridge immediately west of existing bridge; 3.4 miles @ 2001 construction cost.

September 1996 Preliminary Final EIS submitted to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for review. Final EIS not approved because found to be incompatible with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

November 1997 FHWA requested initiation of Section 7 consultation. US Fish and Wildlife would not agree to complete consultation since project was not funded for construction

2001 Over eight years since Draft EIS was approved and FHWA required written re-evaluation since time limit for draft EIS is three years Number of issues had to be addressed in the re-evaluation including compliance with National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 And USFWS's determination of compatibility with the act.

November 2001 Comments received and FHWA would not approve Final EIS

February 2002 Draft report on NC 12 shoreline erosion for “Hot Spots” was completed and predicts the dunes and beach will recede west of NC 12 prior to 2012.

February 2003 NEPA/404 Merger Team meets to discuss new corridor options and select corridors to be carried forward for further evaluation. Corridors 1 and 4 selected for more detailed study. Corridor 1 is approximately six miles long and would extend from the tip of Bodie Island to spit of the Canal Zone Hot Spot. Since then, it has been determined that this option is not likely to be determined compatible with the Refuge's management strategy. Corridor 4 is approximately 17 miles long and would extend from the tip of Bodie Island to south of the third Hot Spot known as the Rodanthe S curves Hot Spot.

July 2003 Dare County Board of Commissioners adopts Resolution expressing concerns for DOT's preferred 17 mile replacement bridge. Concerns include lack of funding and scope of project, removal of the South terminal groin at Oregon I

August 2005 State Assembly passes legislation (House Bill 253) designed to stimulate the progress of the project for a replacement bridge.

September 2005 State Assembly passes second bill (House Bill 747) in clarification of the first to promote the progress of the bridge replacement project.

September 2005 The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is approved on September 12th.
October 2005 Preparations for public hearings begin.

November 2005 Public Hearings on the supplemental EIS both on Roanoke Island and in Rodanthe.
August 2006 The Secretary of the Department of the Interior allows for separation of the bridge construction project and the maintenance of highway 12 through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This should allow permits to be granted for the short bridge option.

December 2006 A Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) completed to include the parallel bridge alternative landing inside of the current right-of-way of highway 12.

December, 2006 An in-depth Structural Condition Assessment of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge was conducted by Alpha & Omega Group, P.C.; H. W. Lochner, Inc.; Wiss, Janney, Elstner, Associates, Inc.; and Ko and Associates, P.C. The study was completed and was released on December 21, 2006. It gave the bridge a “poor” rating overall. The study reveals the Bonner Bridge, in its current state, is safe for use by the traveling public and does not require any weight limit posting. Its “poor” rating is an indication of the bridge's short remaining life span. Due to the advanced stages of deterioration, replacement of the Bonner Bridge within the next ten years remains a necessity.

September, 2008 NCDOT received agreement on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Anticipated Future Timeline
July/August, 2009 Public Hearings to be held on the Supplemental Draft EIS.

September/October, 2009 A Record of Decision (ROD) is anticipated approving the parallel or short bridge option. A comment period will be provided.

February, 2010 The project is expected to be let as a “design/build” project. This means the project will be designed as it is built to expedite the project. This also means the actual project construction will begin. Construction will take four years.

2014 The replacement bridge to be completed.

History of Hatteras Island
Native Americans were already living on Hatteras Island when the European explorers were sailing to the New World in the 1500s. The Native Americans called the island Croatan and the new arrivals called it Hatteras, thought to be named for the Hattorask tribe that made its home on the island.
Theories abound and are still being investigated that the men, women, and children of the “Lost Colony” migrated to Hatteras Island to live among the Native Americans. The colonists came from England in 1587 and disappeared shortly after. There is some evidence that Europeans lived among the Croatan Indians on Hatteras at their ancient capital in the present-day village of Buxton.
By the 1600s, white settlers began arriving on the island. Legend has it that the earliest islanders were castaways, shipwreck survivors, and maybe even pirates. However, many men from the mainland got land grants on the island. Here they found a perfect, isolated place to raise livestock, and they harvested timbers in the many forests that existed then and sent them off for building ships.
The early settlers had a subsistence life. They had vegetable gardens, raised livestock, and fished in the Pamlico Sound to feed their families. That subsistence lifestyle continued into the early 20th century.
In 1802, the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built. It was replaced by a taller beacon in 1870, which at 208 feet is the tallest lighthouse in the United States. In 1999, it was moved about a half mile inland to protect it from the encroaching Atlantic Ocean .
The U.S. Lifesaving Service, which later became the U.S. Coast Guard, came to the island in the 1870s. By 1875, there were seven lifesaving stations along the Outer Banks. Hatteras islanders manned the stations and made many heroic rescues of mariners when their ships wrecked on the shoals off the banks – an area that is known even today as The Graveyard of the Atlantic . It is estimated that that the remains of more than 1,000 ships lie in the ocean off the Outer Banks or are buried on the beaches.
Hatteras Islanders have also seen war up close. Some of the earliest and very strategically important battles of the Civil War happened on Hatteras Island . During World War II, German U-boats prowled the Atlantic waters off the island, destroying Allied ships, especially during 1942 in what became known as the Battle of Torpedo Junction. Many Hatteras islanders can remember the vivid explosions that lit up the night sky and the bodies of the unfortunate sailors that washed up on the beaches.
For many generations, Hatteras islanders have earned a living commercial fishing. In 1937, Ernal Foster of Hatteras village, spent his life savings to build a sportfishing boat and began taking visitors out to the Gulf Stream in search of gamefish and billfish. That effort was the beginning of a very successful sportfishing industry on the island.
For many years, travel to the island was by boat and later car ferries over Oregon and Hatteras inlets. Until the 1950s, islanders and visitors drove on the sand beaches. Then paved highways were constructed to connect the villages, and the opening of the Bonner Bridge in 1963 ushered in a new era of tourism on the island.

Hatteras Island Today
Hatteras Island stretches south from Oregon Inlet for approximately 50 miles to Hatteras Inlet.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area was the first seashore in the United States . It was created by the U.S. Congress by enabling legislation in 1937 and dedicated in 1953. About 85% of Hatteras Island is undeveloped National Park Service and National Fish and Wildlife Service property. Seven villages are scattered along Highway 12. They include (from north to south) Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, often referred to as the Tri-Villages, and Avon , Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras.
Overall, Hatteras Island 's residents are supported mostly by tourism, fishing, real estate, teaching, and government employment.
About 3 million people a year visit the national seashore. They are attracted to this windswept barrier island by its pristine beaches, water access, unique landscape, recreational opportunities, and its history.
Hatteras Island is famous as an East Coast fishing hot spot. The Diamond Shoals, a series of sandbars, extend off Cape Hatteras for about 14 miles. It is here that the warm waters of the Gulf Stream meet the Labrador Current to create the shoals. It is also here that fish congregate on their northern and southern migrations, attracting fishermen from all over the East Coast and sometimes from around the world. The Point at Cape Hatteras is one of the prime spots for surf fishing. The island's proximity to the Gulf Stream has made it the “billfish capital” of the world.
North of Rodanthe and just south of Oregon Inlet is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which attracts birdwatchers from all over the world. With almost 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat and home at various times of the year to more than 400 species of birds, including the snow goose, Canada goose, and whistling swan, it is a birder's paradise.
The waters of Hatteras also attract thousands of windsurfers, kiteboarders, and surfers each year. Other visitors come for kayaking, walking the beaches and shelling, delving into the island's fascinating history, and just spending a laid back day on the beach.
Lighthouse lovers come to climb the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village is open with exhibits about the island's maritime heritage.

Ocracoke Island History and Overview
Ocracoke Island , just about 15 miles long, lies to the southwest of Hatteras and is also part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. Accessible only by boat or plane, the island is a popular destination for visitors, both for day trips and longer stays.
Ocracoke is the name of the island, the island's only village, and the inlet between the island and its neighbor to the south, Portsmouth Island, on the Core Banks and part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Ocracoke is rich in Outer Banks history.

Ocracoke village, at the island's southern end, was originally called Pilot Town and was settled in the 1700s by pilots who guided ships through the inlet and shallow waters of the Pamlico Sound. Its people share the seafaring heritage of the Outer Banks, and Ocracoke is a quiet fishing village in the winter and a bustling tourist spot in the summer. The village is built around Silver Lake Harbor, and its narrow streets and sandy lanes are lined with tall, gnarled live oak trees.
One of Ocracoke's most famous visitors was the notorious Edward Teach, also known as the pirate, Blackbeard. He was killed by the British Royal Navy in a fierce battle at Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.
Almost as famous as Blackbeard are the Ocracoke ponies, which are thought to be descendants of Spanish mustangs who survived shipwrecks in the 16th and 17th centuries.
A popular destination among visiting photographers is the picturesque Ocracoke Lighthouse, nestled among the village's live oaks. Built in 1823, it is the oldest operating lighthouse on the North Carolina coast.
In addition to its rich history, the island has become popular with artists and craftsmen whose work can be seen in galleries and shops.
Today, Ocracoke offers modern accommodations and conveniences to visitors, yet manages to maintain the uniqueness and charm of its past. Visitors can immerse themselves in the island's history, enjoy its pristine beaches, or visit its many shops and restaurants.

History of Oregon Inlet
Oregon Inlet was cut by a hurricane in 1846 and has moved about two miles south since then, as currents shift sand, building up its northern side while eroding its southern side.
In 1950, Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to a dredge a channel in the inlet to a depth of 14 feet. This was called the ocean bar navigation channel.
Since the 1960's 25 people have died and 22 boats have been lost in the 1,300-foot-wide inlet.
In 1970, the late United States Representative Walter B. Jones, Sr. prompted Congress to authorize the construction of two rock jetties and a 20-foot-deep ocean bar navigation channel for Oregon Inlet. Since then, the Corps has completed numerous economic and environmental studies to determine if the project was justified. While studies were ongoing, no money was ever appropriated to construct the project. A groin was built on the southside of the channel in an effort to control the shifting sands.
In May 2003, the White House Council on Environmental Quality killed a 30-year-old plan to keep the inlet open with jetties to block the shifting sands that choke it. The decision made assurances that the Corps would receive enough funds to keep the inlet dredged to maintain the authorized 14-foot depth.
Since 1994, the Corps spent an average of approximately $2 million per year, which has been enough to maintain the 14 foot depth only 15 percent of the time. Because of limited dredging and turbulent waters in the inlet, the Coast Guard has been unable to properly position navigation buoys for the channel. This increases the risk of damage to vessels and injuries to people.

Impact of Oregon Inlet
A fleet of approximately 215 charter and commercial fishing boats access the Atlantic Ocean via Oregon Inlet.
The Corps of Engineers estimates that there are 125 offshore charter vessels working in the area, averaging 110 trips offshore each year.
That means that boats make about 13,750 trips at an average cost of $1,250 per trip for a total of $17,187,500 in just trip fees alone.
This does not include the impact of the mate's tip, ice, hotel, food, bait and other purchases made by the fishermen while in Dare County.
Each of these vessels represents a North Carolina small business.
There are currently 16 recreational boat builders in Dare County with an estimated 35 boats under schedule for completion in the next year. At an average cost of $2 million per boat, the industry brings in about $70 million a year.

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photos courtesy of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau