Mirlo Bypass OK’d in Bonner Bridge Deal

Reprinted from the Outer Banks Voice

NAGS HEAD — Last month’s announcement that a major hurdle had been cleared in the saga to replace the half-century-old Bonner Bridge was only a first step on a winding path before construction will be seen at Oregon Inlet.

The settlement of a lawsuit brought in 2011 by environmental groups against the state of North Carolina had three main requirements before the legal action would be dropped.

Once they are met, construction of a new bridge over Oregon Inlet costing at least a quarter-billion dollars could start sometime next spring, with a projected opening of late-2019.

 Two of the stipulations have been reached, according to N.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson Jennifer Heiss, while the third is in the process of being approved by state regulators.

So far, stopping construction of a permanent bridge over the Hurricane Irene breach has cost taxpayers $4.1 million. Photo: N.C. Department of Transportation

The first was cancellation of a contract to build a 2.4-mile-long bridge over the inlet through Pea Island cut by Hurricane Irene in 2011. That was done the day the settlement was announced, Heiss said.

Parsons Construction is now in the process of pulling out their equipment and cleaning up the site, and they should be finished by the end of the week, according to NCDOT bridge engineer Pablo Hernandez.

Contractors had already started building the bridge over New Inlet when closed-door negotiations to end the lawsuit began.

Detour roads around the construction site are now in place, and three test pilings were driven as much as 100-feet into the sand when that work was stopped last August.

NCDOT had paid Parson’s Construction $4.1 million through the end of June to stay at the site and maintain idle equipment, Heiss said.

She added that final totals of how much the state will pay for cancelling the contract are still being worked out.

The deal calls for a “jug-handle” bypass around the troublesome Mirlo Beach area south of the Bonner Bridge, which will be replaced by a parallel span over Oregon Inlet. Photo: Outer Banks Voice

The proposed “jug-handle” bypass around the troublesome Mirlo Beach area south of the Bonner Bridge, which will be replaced by a parallel span over Oregon Inlet, recently received state and federal approval. Photo: Outer Banks Voice

“Second, the ‘jug handle’ alternative to bypass Mirlo Beach north of Rodanthe had to be presented and approved by the merger team,” composed of numerous state and federal agencies, recently gave their blessing to the proposal, Heiss said.

A 3-mile long bridge will begin in the village of Rodanthe, swing out into Pamlico Sound, then land just north of Mirlo Beach, creating an almost “C”-shaped span.

After that, the agreement suggests, an addition over the Pamlico Sound would extend north to the border of the refuge.

The final step in the way of the lawsuit being dropped is approval of a state Coastal Area Management Act permit for a 3,000-foot long bridge that will replace the current temporary steel bridge at New Inlet.

“We expect that permit to be granted sometime later this summer, a contract will be awarded this fall, and construction will start by the end of the year,” Heiss said.

While it will be a concrete bridge at New Inlet that would open in mid-2017, it is only considered an interim fix for that area under terms of the agreement.

The test pilings at New Inlet will be cut below ground because they are too deep to remove and can’t be incorporated into the design of the interim bridge, Hernandez said. But the pavement on each side of the steel bridge will work for detour routes.

A $216 million contract was awarded in 2011 to PCL Civil Constructors and HDR Engineering for construction of the new Bonner Bridge.

But only 80 percent of the design work has been finished because it was also halted last August when the settlement process was announced, Heiss said.

“Exact costs of the Bonner Bridge will have to be adjusted, since four years have passed since we awarded the contract,” Heiss said.

But that adjustment, just like all other Bonner-related topics, has to await the three conditions of the settlement being reached.

About the Author

Sam Walker

Sam Walker is the news director of Max Radio of the Carolinas and a staff writer for the "Outer Banks Voice."