Only Way to Mainland, Bridge Safety Concerns N.C. Drivers

December 20, 2007

Catwalks on the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge have been repaired. Up next is the beginning of the nitty-gritty structural repair work on the only land link to North Carolina’s Hatteras Island.

Contracts have been let on projects to rehabilitate the fender system that acts as a bumper against boats and to reinforce about seven piles, said Sterling Baker, state Department of Transportation division maintenance engineer.

Baltimore firm Marine Technologies Inc. will replace the heavy timber fenders and bolts that line the bridge in the channel in Oregon Inlet. After the Coast Guard reviews and approves the required mooring plan, the $210,385 project has until March 28 to be completed.

The poor condition of the 44-year-old bridge worries residents who have to cross it regularly.

Beth Midgett, chairwoman of Dare County’s Citizen Action Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge, said she is concerned that the repair work is lagging and that residents’ safety is being dismissed. Despite requests to be kept informed, she said, the committee has not been kept in the loop.

“This is our lifeblood,” she said. “We can’t exist without that bridge.”

Although the three projects – including the catwalks – are the first to address recommendations by engineering consultants in a December 2006 structural assessment, Baker said the fender replacement was DOT’s idea because of concerns about boater safety. The wicked current in the narrow passage under the bridge is reflected in the condition of the fender system.

“Some of it has been struck repeated times by boats,” he said.

The same contractor will also add concrete pile caps and jacketing on about seven piles that are cracking and chipping. The $531,594 project will be done within the same time frame.

Pile jacketing involves pouring concrete around a steel cage surrounding the pile.

Baker said that there may be very short-term lane closures, but traffic will not be stopped over the bridge.

Other recommendations in the assessment will be addressed in a two-year, $36 million project expected to start about March 31 and be completed about Dec. 19, 2010. Bidding will be Jan. 15. Baker said the concrete repair and rehabilitation along the entire bridge, including the bents, girders and deck, is a combination of repairs recommended by the consultants.

“This will address 90 percent of those items addressed in the assessment,” he said.

The contractor will work at night during the summer months. Lane closures can be expected when work is being done, but the bridge will remain open.

The DOT decided that some recommendations – like waterproofing the bridge – would be a waste of time and money considering the conditions in Oregon Inlet. It was also agreed that replacement of the expansion joints was not necessary for the remaining 10-year life of the repaired bridge. Another recommendation, replacement of the bearing pads that go between the concrete girders, has already been done by the DOT.

A replacement bridge is expected to be completed by 2013.

Baker said that the projects will be completed within the 2010 time frame recommended in the assessment, and that care has been taken to ensure that the bridge remains sound while work is being done.

“They confined the work area to small areas so that no structural integrity is compromised,” he said.

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