DARE COUNTY - Dare County has declared a state of emergency for Hatteras Island as a result of the closing of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.
The NCDOT closed the Bonner Bridge Tuesday afternoon, citing safety concerns. An inspection revealed too much sand erosion to the support structures of the bridge, officials said.
NCDOT Officials say they've been monitoring the bridge for about a month. On Monday, divers confirmed what their sonar was showing; that 9 out of 10 support beams under one area of the bridge did not have enough sand around them to be considered safe.
The bridge carries Highway 12 across the Oregon Inlet, and is the only road link between Hatteras Island and the mainland.
Officials say the bridge is 50 years old; 20 years past its original life expectancy. They have plans to build a new bridge, but say that process has been delayed due to lawsuits brought from different environmental conservation agencies.
"This is a classic example of over zealous environmental folks forgetting that there's human beings involved here," said NC District 6 Representative Bill Cook.
Frustrated residents and tourists lined up waiting for a ferry on Wednesday. "They should have built the bridge eons ago but because the wildlife people, the bird people, everybody else, 'nope can't do it might disturb some little seagull or some little nested turtle or something,'" said Greg Compher, who was traveling to the island for a fishing trip.
According to the NCDOT, the Ferry Division operated its emergency ferry route between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe with limited service Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, the regular Stumpy Point-Rodanthe schedule is as follows:
•Departing Stumpy Point at 5 a.m., 6:30, 8, 9:30, 11, 12:30p.m., 2, 3:30, 5, & 9:30.
•Departing Rodanthe at 6 a.m., 7:30, 9, 10:30, Noon, 1:30p.m, 3, 4:30, 6, & 7:30.
In addition, residents of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, as well as emergency personnel and vendors, will have tolls waived on Pamlico Sound routes between Ocracoke-Cedar Island and Ocracoke-Swan Quarter.
The boats and crews needed for the emergency route will also mean fewer boats and crews for the Hatteras-Ocracoke route. The new schedule on that route, effective immediately, is as follows:
•Departing Ocracoke: 5 a.m., 7, 9, 11, 1 p.m., 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.
•Departing Hatteras: 6 a.m., 8, 10, Noon, 2 p.m., 4, 6, 8, 10, and midnight.
NCDOT has declared a state of emergency and said steps are underway to begin repair work as soon as possible. However, NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata said he doesn't "want to make any projections about the length of time before we will re-open the bridge."
"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 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."