UPDATE 12/11: According to NCDOT Division 1 Engineer Jerry Jennings, the Bonner Bridge could open in a week or up to 90 days, depending on findings of recent tests and timeline for repairs.
According to a news release from NCDOT, their geotechnical staff will use data gathered today, as well as additional surveys, to fully assess the situation and future repairs. Once a full assessment of the bridge’s safety is complete, NCDOT will determine the next steps.
RALEIGH -- The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the Oregon Inlet was shut down Tuesday "to protect the traveling public," the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation said.
More than 4,000 people live on Hatteras Island. The Bonner Bridge, which carries N.C. 12 over Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks, is the only way vehicles can travel directly between Hatteras Island and the mainland.
According to an NCDOT statement, "Inspections revealed additional areas of concern, which led department officials to decide to close the bridge immediately for the safety of all residents and visitors of the area."
NCDOT spokesman Michael Charbonneau told 13News Now that divers in the water Monday identified a critical safety issue and the bridge needed to be closed immediatedly. Charbonneau says NCDOT's first priority is safety and their second priority is getting people back and forth via ferry.
The bridge will remain closed until the department can bring in additional resources to inspect the bridge and make necessary repairs to fortify it. NCDOT has declared a state of emergency as a way of expediting the process and steps are already underway to begin repair work as soon as possible, officials said Tuesday afternoon.
NCDOT officials told WVEC.com they don't know how long the bridge will be closed.
"Because a state of emergency has been declared, we are able to work quickly to award a contract, but at this point with it being so early on in the process, we don’t have a timeframe," NCDOT spokesperson Jennifer Garifo said.
According to Garifo, crews will most likely be on site Wednesday doing additional inspections and scans.
“Closing the Bonner Bridge is necessary to keep all travelers safe, but we know it will have a devastating effect on the people who live along and visit the Outer Banks,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “We will work to safely reopen this vital lifeline quickly, and hope to be able to begin construction on a new bridge as soon as possible.”
Ferry Division workers have already tested the emergency ferry ramps at Stumpy Point and Rodanthe and the division is sending four 180-foot River Class vessels to begin operating the emergency Hatteras Island route, NCDOT said.
There will be two ferry runs Tuesday night and Wednesday morning emergency ferry runs will go from 5 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., Charbonneau said.
According to NCDOT, all tolls currently in place on the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter and Ocracoke-Cedar Island ferry routes will be waived for residents, emergency personnel and vendors while the bridge is closed and the emergency ferry route is in operation.
The U.S. Coast Guard is also currently on standby.
“We expect the emergency ferry route to be up and running Wednesday morning,” said Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon. “We know the residents of Hatteras Island are depending on us to be their lifeline, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
At full capacity on a full schedule, the route can ferry 760 single cars a day, 380 from each side.
Garifo told WVEC.com at that this time of year between 1,000 and 2.000 cars travel over the bridge every day. During the summer months, that number can jump to 10,000 vehicles a day.
Sandy Sanderson with Dare County Emergency Services tells 13News Now that all emergency services will be operational, despite the bridge closure.
Dare County spokeswoman Dorothy Killingsworth said they were given no notice that the bridge was going to be closed.
"It did create panic amongst many folks and, you know, school children who were on the other side of the bridge, people that work. You know, that bridge is a lifeline for everybody that lives on Hatteras Island," Killingsworth said.
Killingsworth said Dare County officials met Tuesday afternoon and discussed priorities for the ferry service, once it is up and running. She says people with medical appointments, those with special medical needs, food, water, medical supplies, mail and fuel will take first priority.
Killingsworth says Dare County Med Flight and Vidant Medical Center have been put on standby for any medical emergencies.
The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge was designed to last 30 years when it was built in 1963. NCDOT says they have known that the bridge needs replaced and in August 2011 they awarded a contract to a design-build team to replace the bridge.
Design work began immediately and construction of the replacement bridge was originally set to begin in early 2013. NCDOT says all work is currently on hold following a series of legal challenges by the Southern Environmental law center on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Click here for documents relating to the state action, as well as the federal ruling.
NCDOT says once the CAMA permit challenge and the federal appeal are resolved, NCDOT will immediately move forward with construction of the new bridge.