HARKERS ISLAND — A steady stream of people were at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center Monday night to comment on which bridge proposal they would prefer to see constructed here.
There are four alternative bridge solutions set forth by the N.C. Department of Transportation that would replace the current straight island bridge and drawbridge.
Around 80 people came to the meeting in the first hour of public comment alone, and most of them leaned toward the option that would see a single bridge with a 45-foot vertical clearance constructed here.
The current straight bridge is 14 feet high and will need to be replaced soon and the drawbridge is also toward the end of its life cycle. All proposals include a bridge with a 45-foot vertical clearance for boats to pass under, in lieu of another drawbridge.
By this fall, NCDOT will select which alternative solution it will use and build according to that. In 2017, the environmental documents are expected to be complete, and rights-of-way acquisition will also start next year.
Construction is expected to start in 2019 and is tentatively budgeted at $23.8 million, according to John Rouse, District 2 Engineer with NCDOT. Rights-of-way acquisition is expected to cost $2.2 million.
Mr. Rouse noted that with the current bridge set up, there are access points to the Straits boat landing access area, the Harkers Island beach access and the Straits fishing pier. Some of these areas would be affected by the various new bridge proposals, but they will do the best they can to still allow people to go there, he said.
The goal of the project is to improve the structural integrity of the bridges, reduce congested traffic and provide accommodations for emergency access and evacuation on Harkers Island Road.
The four alternative bridge choices are:
Option No. 1: Two fixed bridges, each located west of the current bridges, with a 45-foot vertical navigational clearance at bridge No. 73, the drawbridge. This option would change entry to the beach access, cut off access from The Straits fishing pier, but not change the boat landing access area.
Option No. 2: Two fixed bridges, with one located east of the current drawbridge, and one west of the existing drawbridge, with a 45-foot vertical navigational clearance at bridge No. 73. This option would also change access to the beach site, cut off access to the fishing pier, but not change the boat landing access area.
Option No. 3: Two fixed bridges, each east of the existing bridges, with a 45-foot vertical clearance at bridge No. 73. This option would keep access to the beach site open, but change the access points to the fishing pier and boat landing area.
Option No. 4: One fixed bridge east of the existing bridges, with a 45-foot vertical clearance. This proposal would mean no access to the fishing pier, and a change in access to the boat landing access.
Mr. Rouse said he had heard a number of people who were in favor of option No. 4, that would create a single high-rise bridge.
Mitch Mangum has lived on Harkers Island for the past 15 years full-time, but has owned a home here for the past 40 years, and he is among those who would prefer Option No. 4.
“All of the proposals are good because it does fix a major problem with the deterioration of the current bridge,” he said. “I personally like alternative four, because technically it provides the best protection from saltwater spray.”
He said he was leaning toward this proposal, but he would prefer if they could find an alternative way to provide access to the fishing pier, which would be cut off if this option is selected.
Bonnie Harvell, another Harkers Island resident, said she lives right by the bridge and wanted to have the chance to submit her thoughts on the proposals and have her questions answered.
She noted DOT staff wasn’t able to address her questions on heavy foot and bicycle traffic in the bridge area, but her other questions were answered.
Ms. Harvell said she was originally leaning toward the first option, which would place two bridges to the west of the current bridges, but after seeing the maps at Monday’s meeting, she decided to support the third option, because she believed it would have less impact on the amenities around it. She noted she would propose to keep the fishing pier on the same side it currently is, even if the bridges are moved to the west.
Ms. Harvell said although she thinks the 45-foot vertical clearance will be a positive addition, especially in an emergency situation where vehicle traffic cannot be stopped by a drawbridge, that there is nostalgia associated with the drawbridge that has been there for decades.
Those who were unable to make Monday’s meeting can provide feedback through email or mail.
Comments can be sent to Michele James at email@example.com or by mail at 1516 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699.
Contact Anna Harvey at 252-726-7081, ext. 229; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @annaccnt.