A new chapter has opened in the long-running struggle to maintain road access to the North Carolina Outer Banks. Year-round residents and the surge of summer vacationers both get to the slender barrier islands on North Carolina Route 12. But the low-lying road washes out frequently in rough weather, and passes through nature preserves where road maintenance or improvements are complicated by environmental rules.

Then there’s the troubled Bonner Bridge, built in 1963 to provide road access to Hatteras Island. The aging bridge, damaged in a barge collision in the 1990s, was slated for replacement. But the new bridge project was delayed for years, tangled up in lawsuits brought by environmental groups.

Now, after months of secret negotiations, the state has settled with the environmentalists — agreeing to plan a miles-long bypass bridge around the most sensitive areas on NC 12’s path, in return for the environmentalist group’s consent for the state to replace the decrepit Bonner Bridge with a new, parallel span (see “Settlement Agreement”).

The Raleigh News and Observer has a report (see: “Bonner Bridge replacement assured in Outer Banks environmental settlement,” by Bruce Siceloff). “Lawyers for two conservation groups have agreed to drop their lawsuit and let the state Department of Transportation build a long-delayed 2.8-mile bridge to carry N.C. 12 across the Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks, parallel to the deteriorating Bonner Bridge,” the paper reports. “In exchange, DOT will consider – and appears likely to build – a long bridge south of the inlet that would move flood-prone sections of N.C. 12 out of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, traveling over Pamlico Sound for 7 miles.” Construction on the Bonner replacement should start next spring, said state official Mike Charbonneau.

Meanwhile, urgent repairs to the Bonner Bridge using shot-crete were completed in early June. Here’s an interesting slideshow of some of that repair work, posted by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.