Reprinted with permission from Carteret County News-Times
HARKERS ISLAND — Mariners and others with an interest in waterway navigation are encouraged to submit comments to the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the latest plans to construct a new bridge to Harkers Island.
The state Department of Transportation is working on a project to replace a series of two bridges that connect Harkers Island to the mainland.
The first existing bridge connects the mainland to Straits Fishing Pier, and the other, the Earl C. Davis Memorial Bridge, connects the pier to Harkers Island. Together, the two bridges carry Harkers Island Road between the island and the mainland as the only vehicular access to Harkers Island.
The Coast Guard, which must review and approve the bridge plan, is currently seeking information specifically from mariners and others who frequently navigate the surrounding waterways on the navigational clearances and need for bridge protective systems, clearance gauges and navigational lightning on the proposed bridge.
Written comments may be sent to the office of the commander, Fifth Coast Guard District, 431 Crawford St., Portsmouth, VA 23704-5004. Comments should be received by Tuesday, June 25. Mariners should include information about their vessel type and use, whether commercial or recreational, and vessel height, draft, length, beam, tonnage and mooring location.
The plan, according to NCDOT officials, is to construct a single fixed-span bridge between Straits on the mainland and Harkers Island. The fixed bridge will be constructed to the east of the two existing bridges.
The bridge stretching from the pier to Harkers Island will be removed entirely, while the other span will be retained as a pedestrian bridge between the mainland and the fishing pier, which was destroyed in Hurricane Florence but is scheduled to be rebuilt.
NCDOT says the purpose of the project is to improve bridge structural safety and functionality for aging structures.
“The bridges are each more than 45 years old and are due for replacement,” reads information from the project page on NCDOT’s website. “Doing so would not only improve their structural capacity but also provide better access to and from the island in emergencies and during hurricane evacuations.”
The existing bridge is a drawbridge and can open to accommodate passing boat traffic. When it is closed, the bridge height is 14 feet above mean high water. As a fixed span, the proposed bridge will not open, but it will be elevated at a height of 45 feet above mean high water.
After a series of two public meetings, the preferred alternative bridge design was selected in 2017. NCDOT Division 2 project development engineer Jeff Cabaniss said the department has fallen slightly behind on the timeline laid out on the project website, which originally had construction scheduled to begin this year.
“We’ve had issues with a few things. We were trying to start this fall, but because of some issues we moved it to February,” he said.
Mr. Cabaniss said right-of-way land acquisition is expected to take place this summer, and NCDOT will let the project for bids next February. Once all the bids are in, the department will choose a contractor to carry out the work.
The total project cost is estimated at $36,181,000. The project is listed under the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program and is funded for $35.37 million.
A Coastal Area Management Act moratorium prevents in-water work in the project area from about mid-February through October, so Mr. Cabaniss said he doesn’t expect construction to begin until fall 2020 at the earliest. Much like the recent construction of the new North River Bridge, he said the project may take longer to complete than originally anticipated because of the moratorium.
Drivers should expect minimal to no traffic impacts throughout bridge construction since it is being built on a new location. Mr. Cabaniss said there will be traffic effects later down the line when the department completes tie-ins and other final touches, but that won’t happen for several years.
For more information about the Harkers Island bridge replacement, visit the project website.
This story is provided courtesy of the Carteret County News-Times, a tri-weekly newspaper published in Morehead City. Coastal Review Online partners with the News-Times to provide our readers with news of the North Carolina coast.