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NCDOT Fields ‘Jug Handle’ Bridge Questions

Reprinted from Island Free Press

North end of NC 12 Rodanthe bridge. Photo: NCDOT

Resident project engineer Pablo Hernandez and a team of North Carolina Department of Transportation representatives answered questions and provided updates Thursday on the ongoing construction of the Rodanthe Bridge, often referred to as the “jug handle” bridge,  in an at-times heated community meeting with residents and property owners.

The meeting in the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Center, held to provide a status report on the bridge project and to address questions from the public, began with a summary of how the 2.4-mile-long bridge is progressing.

Hernandez said the new jug handle bridge is roughly 20% complete, and to date, the state has spent roughly $65 million on construction efforts out of the $145 million total budget.

Since starting in the summer of 2018, the primary focus has been on building the project’s one-of-a-kind rail system, or gantry system, which will enable crews to move materials and construction efforts out into the Pamlico Sound.

“It takes about nine to 13 months to get the ‘building machines’ up and running,” said Hernandez. “In the next month or so, we will have all the equipment settled on the north end of the bridge.”

Once work begins in the water, the jug handle bridge will have fewer obstacles than the Bonner Bridge replacement, due to its design.

“The bridge is not anywhere as near a dramatic structure as the Basnight Bridge,” said Hernandez. “There is no navigation channel (in the Pamlico Sound), so we do not have to have a high rise section, (per the U.S. Coast Guard).”

“We’re hoping for a completion of project – with traffic on the structure – by late 2020, but it’s looking more like (it will be finished) in early 2021,” he added.

The jug handle bridge is considered part of Phase II of the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project, and is the last of the three bridges within the project guidelines to be built. The bridge will effectively bypass the S-Turns section of N.C. 12 north of Rodanthe, which is highly susceptible to breaches during storms.

Once the jug handle bridge is complete, the roughly 1.5-mile section of N.C. 12 that will be bypassed will be dismantled, and the land will return to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

After the overview, Rodanthe property owners and residents immediately affected by the bridge project asked questions and gave feedback. The most prevalent request being better communication in order for homeowners to be prepared for excess noise or to have a better ability to notify their tenants of construction updates in the vicinity, specifically when it came to pile driving.

Resident project engineer Pablo Hernandez answers questions at Thursday’s community meeting. Photo: Island Free Press

Hernandez said there have been internal discussions about providing better predictions on when pile driving would occur, and that they would look into compiling weekly schedule updates.

Another attendee asked about the potential impact on the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe, which was identified in October of 2017 by a team of researchers as a World War II troop transport. Hernandez confirmed that the jug handle bridge would travel over the shipwreck, but that no pilings in either the temporary work or in the permanent structure will be driven into the wreck itself.

There were several clarification questions regarding the height of the bridge, which is designed to stand 15 feet above the Pamlico Sound, and several concerns about its ability to withstand high winds.

Hernandez stated that while there are currently no concrete guidelines when it comes to shutting down a bridge based on wind speeds, a task force was being initiated to gauge and formulate a wind policy for the future.

There was also a lot of lingering frustration among many attendees on how the project came to fruition, as well as concerns with the design of the bridge, which jets out into the Pamlico Sound, and has a roundabout in Rodanthe instead of a traffic signal.

Maintaining soundside watersports and fishing access were also vocal concerns, with at least one public commenter requesting that NCDOT work with local residents to identify potential new access points.

Updates on the status of the jug handle bridge as well as planned construction activities through Oct. 26, are available online.

This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast. 

About the Author

Joy Crist

Joy Crist is a Hatteras Island resident since 1998 and a writer and columnist with the Island Free Press. Her work has also appeared in a number of regional Outer Banks and statewide websites and publications.