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Alligator River Bridge Reconstruction in North Carolina’s Outer Banks
Article

Alligator River Bridge Reconstruction in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

This $110 million grant provides funding for a project to rebuild the 60-year-old Alligator River Bridge in the North Carolina Outer Banks.

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A lighthouse station is seen from above with tidal waters in the background.
An aerial view of Bodie Island Light Station in Nags Head, North Carolina, on February 6, 2022. (Getty/Joe Soho)
Snapshot
  • Project name: Alligator River Bridge

  • Program: National Infrastructure Project Assistance (Mega program) discretionary grant program/Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant

  • Law: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

  • Recipient: North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)

  • Investment amount: $110 million

  • City: Dare and Tyrrell counties

  • State: North Carolina

  • Congressional districts: 1 and 6

  • Construction start date: Summer 2024
  • Jobs created: TBD

This profile is part of a project that finds and tracks the public and private sector investments generated or supported by three of the Biden administration’s economic laws. These laws make investments in the American people, helping to grow the middle class, lowering the cost of living, and setting up America to better compete and cooperate in the world. Pulling directly from several sources, this catalog provides users with publicly available information such as the number of jobs created, workforce training partnerships, and storytellers benefiting from particular projects, among other detailed information. The profile below expands on the economic, practical, and climate impacts of just one of the 35,000 investments that can be found in the Biden Administration Investment Tracker. It may be updated to account for future project developments.

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A $110 million grant from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is going toward replacing the 60-year-old Alligator River Bridge in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The bridge has become expensive to maintain and costly for commuters when it breaks, as they have to take a 99-mile detour. The new bridge will support economic development in an area that is difficult to reach otherwise.

Historical context

  • The existing bridge, called the Lindsay C. Warren bridge, “is a two-lane swing-span bridge that was completed in 1962.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
  • “Constructed in 1960, the Lindsay C. Warren Bridge is classified as ‘structurally deficient’ with a rating of 31.71 out of 100 possible points. The existing bridge is experiencing substantial deterioration due to its age and structural deficiencies resulting in the need for extensive and costly ongoing maintenance with mechanical replacement parts for the swing span that are not readily available and that typically require custom fabrication.” – North Carolina Department of Transportation, June 2021
  • Former Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R-NC) administration shelved plans to replace the bridge in 2016. Nathan Everett, the chair of the Tyrrell County Board of Commissioners, wrote in an op-ed, “Around nine years ago, officials were told that the state would begin constructing the replacement for the Alligator River Bridge. But in 2016 under the previous Governor’s administration, those infrastructure funds were reallocated, and our project was put on the back burner. I can’t tell you how depressed we were when we heard the news. We lobbied the previous governor and our legislators, and Dare, Hyde and Washington counties joined the fight because everybody realized that this was a bad situation. We’d all but lost hope for the project when President Biden took office and conversations around the replacement bridge were revived. There was all this buzz about infrastructure funding and, if an infrastructure bill were to pass, we would get the money we needed for the Alligator River Bridge project.” – Cardinal & Pine, May 4, 2023

Project summary

  • The deteriorating 60-year-old bridge is a critical hurricane evacuation route. The $110 million bipartisan infrastructure law grant will replace the 60-year-old Alligator River Bridge between I-95 and one of North Carolina’s main vacation spots, the Outer Banks. “The existing bridge, a machinery-driven movable swing bridge is a critical hurricane evacuation route and is in a deteriorated condition, which causes costly delays for travelers. This award will support construction of a modern high-rise fixed-span bridge that will improve travel times and safety, for cars, bikes, and pedestrians, along a primary east-west route in northeastern North Carolina between I-95 and the Outer Banks.” – U.S. Department of Transportation, January 31, 2023
  • “The proposed replacement project would build a new two-lane fixed-span bridge just to the north of the old one, allowing both marine and vehicle traffic to pass unimpeded.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
  • The new bridge will have expanded shoulders and 65 feet of clearance. “The new bridge will include 65 feet of clearance over the channel and will have 8-foot shoulders and railings of 4.5 feet. The current span has one-foot shoulders and a railing of 2-feet-10 inches. … The state agency has completed the environmental document and is working on completing right of way plans and acquisition. The final bridge design is expected to be complete this fall. NCDOT expects to begin the bidding process in 2024 with construction starting later that year.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, March 9, 2023
  • The federal grant allows the bridge replacement to happen years sooner than it otherwise would have.“The long-planned replacement of the 60-year-old, two-lane, swing-span bridge that is the only direct link between Raleigh and the Outer Banks will come years sooner thanks to a recently announced $110 million federal infrastructure grant.” – Coastal Review, October 31, 2023
  • The bridge will link Dare and Tyrell counties. – U.S. Department of Transportation, January 31, 2023
  • “The grant will also fund installation of broadband infrastructure along U.S. 64 from I-95 in Rocky Mount to N.C. 12 on the Outer Banks.” Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
The proposed bridge rebuild is outlined in red on a map showing an aerial view of the bridge.
An image of the proposed bridge rebuild over North Carolina's Alligator River. (Credit: North Carolina Department of Transportation)

Outcomes, improvements, and practical impact

  • The new bridge will solve the current problem of regular boat passage forcing vehicular traffic to detour 99 miles. “More than 4,000 boats pass through the area every year, forcing vehicle traffic to stop while the swing-span opens and closes. Though maintained, the aging structure experiences occasional technical issues that can force motorists onto a 99-mile detour.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
  • The current bridge can get stuck for hours or days. “Also, the 60-year-old swing span occasionally experiences electrical or mechanical issues that can cause the bridge to get stuck for hours or even days. If the bridge is stuck in the open position, vehicular traffic must take a detour of more than 90 miles.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, March 9, 2023
  • Fixing the bridge is crucial for thousands of daily commuters. Nathan Everett, chair of the Tyrrell County Board of Commissioners, wrote in an op-ed: “Finally, the Alligator River Bridge is getting replaced thanks to much-needed and long-overdue infrastructure funding from the Biden administration. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) called a stakeholder meeting to tell us the news. When I came home that night I almost collapsed with satisfaction knowing someone was finally hearing us. When I heard that the bridge is one of nine major bridge projects funded under the infrastructure bill, I felt elated and relieved. As a county commissioner in Tyrrell County, I know how important this bridge is to the livelihoods of our residents as well as the local economy. We are a small community, just under 3,500 people. Over a third of our workforce commutes outside of the county for work, and from my experience, the majority of those workers are driving across the Alligator River Bridge. Some drive an excess of 80 miles one way to work on the tourist beaches, and many do it six or even seven days a week.” – Cardinal & Pine, May 4, 2023

Climate impact

  • Those planning the construction process have considered environmental impacts:
    • “Construction of the new bridge would also avoid the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.” – North Carolina Department of Transportation, last accessed January 25, 2024
    • “To improve wildlife habitat connectivity within the project study area, wildlife crossing structures and barrier fences have been included in the project designs to help eliminate road-kills and increase permeability of the roadway for the wide diversity of wildlife in the area. The new section of the bridge over land will allow for larger animal passage between the end bent and the shoreline. In addition, two arched pipes (53”X41”), one located on each approach to the bridge, are included to accommodate smaller wildlife crossing the U.S. 64 corridor.” – North Carolina Department of Transportation, June 2021
    • “Because this bridge is a coastal/tidal bridge with a high criticality rating, additional structural, geotechnical, and 2D hydrodynamic modeling and design efforts are being conducted to address, among other items, sea level rise (2090), storm surge, coastal scour, and wave loads. These design efforts will further evaluate and assist in determining the optimal length for the new bridge structure and pier locations and will seek to avoid and minimize, to the extent practicable, impacts to adjacent jurisdictional wetlands, streams, and CAMA AECs.” – North Carolina Department of Transportation, June 2021
  • Traffic backs up and idles at least 4,000 times per year when the bridge opens, but the pollution caused by that idling will decrease with the construction of a bridge that permits free water traffic. “The bridge has served as the only link from Columbia to the Outer Banks for most of my life. Originally constructed in 1962, the bridge is currently in poor condition. The drawbridge opens over 4,000 times a year to allow boats to pass, often getting stuck open and obstructing traffic until bridge tenders can fix it. But even when it doesn’t get stuck, waiting for the bridge to open and close still causes traffic to extend for miles outside the bridge, especially in the tourism high season.” – Cardinal & Pine, May 4, 2023 

Economic impact

  • The existing bridge is expensive to maintain. “In November 2019, a $17 million major rehabilitation project was completed on the bridge, consisting of several hundred pile jackets, concrete repair, deck surfacing, and a major mechanical overhaul of the swing mechanism and controls. Similar rehabilitation efforts will be needed within the next 7 years.” – North Carolina Department of Transportation, June 2021
  • The new bridge will support economic development in an area that is difficult to reach otherwise. “A new fixed-span bridge over the Alligator River would aid everything from economic development to hurricane evacuation.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
  • The bridge is important for commuters who need to cross to get to work. “So many of the employees that make the Outer Banks run live on the other side of that bridge. A lot of municipal staff depend on that bridge to get to work. These folks provide services for us all that are vital.” – Island Free Press, January 5, 2023

Official supporting statements

  • U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg: “From the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge, some infrastructure projects are so large and complex that they defy traditional funding systems—and so significant that they become iconic parts of the American landscape. … After receiving over one hundred applications, we are proud to fund these nine infrastructure megaprojects across the country to create jobs, strengthen our supply chains, expand our economy, and renew America’s built landscape.” – U.S. Department of Transportation, January 31, 2023
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D): “This bridge is a lifeline for the people of North Carolina both to and from the Barrier Islands. It is one of the few options residents and visitors have for accessing our far eastern counties and this bridge replacement will serve our state for decades to come. … This is a great example of how President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law helps move along large projects that otherwise would be difficult to fund through traditional means.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
    • “Strong communities require strong investments in infrastructure. … Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this funding will help replace the Alligator River Bridge and increase high speed internet access, making our eastern counties more accessible and strengthening North Carolina for generations to come.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, March 9, 2023
  • Division One Engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Win Bridgers: “This is a big boost for eastern North Carolina. … A new fixed-span bridge over the Alligator River would aid everything from economic development to hurricane evacuation.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, January 3, 2023
  • Federal Highway Administration Administrator Ahailen Bhatt: “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is delivering results for the people of North Carolina, and this project is an excellent example of how these transportation investments are strengthening the local economy and improving safety and mobility for residents. … NCDOT was successful in securing one of the first grants announced under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new Mega Grant program, and we are proud to partner with transportation leaders in North Carolina to advance this critical project.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, March 9, 2023
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary J. Eric Boyette: “For decades to come, this bridge will make driving and boating safer, faster and more efficient for people traveling through this area, … from aiding in hurricane evacuations to improving our economic development prospects, this project is a great investment in our state’s transportation future.” – Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, March 9, 2023
  • U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC): “This grant is a big win for Dare and Tyrrell Counties and will ensure a safe and reliable bridge for generations to come. I am proud to have advocated for this funding and thank local officials in both counties for their tireless advocacy for this grant as well.” – Outer Banks Voice, January 3, 2023
  • Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodward: “Highway 64 and the Alligator River Bridge provide a critical ingress and egress to Dare County and the Outer Banks. Funding for a replacement has been a long time coming, and it is something that our board has advocated for over a number of years. The existing 60-year-old structure is narrow, dangerous and has become unreliable. Kudos to NCDOT for seeking the federal grant funds needed to make this project move forward, and thanks to both our state and federal legislators for all of their support.” – Island Free Press, January 5, 2023
  • Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon: “Over the years our town has from time-to-time employed people who lived across the Alligator River bridge. Nags Head is also home to a number of businesses whose employees and subcontractors live on the other side of the bridge. That’s why our board has been vocal about the need for replacement. We’re certainly excited to learn that it may finally happen.” – Island Free Press, January 5, 2023
  • Kill Devil Hills Mayor Ben Sproul: “This accomplishment – years in the making – is, in part, a testament to one of the great strengths continually seen at work in Dare County and among our many municipalities, our ability to speak with one voice when advocating for the common good. We are thrilled to learn that our chorus of public comments and persistent Resolutions of support (KDH passed such measures in September 2022, November 2021, and March 2020), along with the strong case made by NCDOT in their aptly named “STERLING” application, were successful in securing this federal support.” – Island Free Press, January 5, 2023
  • Southern Shores Town Manager Cliff Ogburn: “So many of the employees that make the Outer Banks run live on the other side of that bridge. A lot of municipal staff depend on that bridge to get to work. These folks provide services for us all that are vital. It’s a shame that they must live so far from where they work and at the very least, they should have a bridge they can depend on to make the daily journey.” – Island Free Press, January 5, 2023
  • Chair of the Tyrrell County Board of Commissioners Nathan Everett: “Coming from a point where this project was abandoned to where we are today, it would absolutely not have happened without the passage of the Infrastructure Law. I give a lot of credit to the President for carrying it through Congress and across party lines, to deliver for the American people. This is more than just a bridge, it’s a life-changing project. It’s going to make a major difference in many areas, from safety to convenience to commerce. There’s no way to put into words all of the effects that this bridge will have. The project even extends broadband, yet another area of need in my community that prior to getting infrastructure funding for, we hadn’t been able to do anything about. All of these projects may sound mundane, but for a community like mine, they are life-changing.” – Cardinal & Pine, May 4, 2023

Selected clips

  • “Federal grant will help in replacement of Alligator River Bridge” – WNCT, January 3, 2023
  • “Federal grant to accelerate Alligator River bridge project” – Coastal Review, March 10, 2023

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