All News & Blogs
Date published: 9/4/2012
PEA ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, N.C.--A year after Hurricane Irene, the only road linking most of North Carolina's fragile barrier islands doesn't look much worse than it did before the storm hit.
Regular Outer Banks vacationers traveling Highway 12 may notice only a prefab steel bridge one-eighth of a mile long within the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the northern end of Hatteras Island. Workers needed six weeks after Irene's landfall in August 2011 to span a breach blown when the storm poked holes from Pamlico Sound to the Atlantic Ocean and cut the road in two.
Otherwise, Department of Transportation local engineer Jerry Jennings said, "the roadway itself is basically just like it was."
But big changes could be coming for N.C. Highway 12 before the next big storm arrives. Officials could alter access and aesthetics in the 5,000-acre federal refuge for birds and protected wildlife and Rodanthe, the first village reached by motorists driving south through the refuge. Others worry they could harm the environment.
Tired of repairing the road after overwash from each hurricane, the state wants to elevate about 5 miles of N.C. 12 onto pilings at some locations upward of 25 and 30 feet--reaching the heights of some dunes currently protecting the road from the ocean.
"It's not like we can build the same road in the same place and have a different result," said DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty said.
Two bridges would replace the temporary bridge at the Pea Island breach and a stretch north of Rodanthe where workers repaired a breach with blacktop road. The post-Irene repairs here cost about $12 million. One of the bridge options at Rodanthe would actually send N.C. 12 west into the Pamlico Sound before re-entering the refuge.
The upgrades are in addition to the impending construction of the parallel replacement for the aging Bonner Bridge that takes N.C. 12 drivers over Oregon Inlet at the foot of the refuge to places like Nags Head and Kitty Hawk.
The projects are again pitting demands of safety and transportation needs with environmental protections and long-term ecological threats on North Carolina's coast. A state-sponsored science panel has warned sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet by 2100.