The primary link between the Outer Banks and the rest of North Carolina will soon be getting a major improvement thanks to a federal grant that was announced Tuesday.
In a statement from Governor Roy Cooper, a $110 million federal Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation has been awarded to help pay for a new span to carry U.S. 64 over the Alligator River between Dare and Tyrell counties.
“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,” Cooper said.
““This grant is a big win for Dare and Tyrrell Counties and will ensure a safe and reliable bridge for generations to come,” said U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC).
“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,” Tillis said in a statement.
Tillis was one of 19 Republican senators to vote in favor of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that funded the grant.
The current Lindsay B. Warren Bridge is a two-lane swing-span bridge that was completed in 1962, and is notorious for causing extended delays for travelers.
Problems with the draw span continue to be an ongoing issue, including most recently on Christmas Eve, even after replacement of mechanical and electric systems during extensive renovations in the 2010s.
More than 4,000 boats pass through the bridge every year while traversing the Intracoastal Waterway, forcing vehicle traffic to stop while the swing-span opens and closes.
When the bridge malfunctions, drivers must either travel detours that are as much as 100 miles long, either along U.S. 264 and N.C. 94 through Hyde County or U.S. 158 and U.S. 17 through Elizabeth City.
“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,” Cooper said.
“This is a big boost for eastern North Carolina,” said Win Bridgers, Division One Engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation. “A new fixed-span bridge over the Alligator River would aid everything from economic development to hurricane evacuation.”
The proposed $268 million replacement project would build a new two-lane fixed-span bridge just to the north of the old one costing, with NCDOT planning for construction to begin no later than 2025.
Plans have been formulated for years to build a fixed-span bridge over the Alligator River, and shifted from a four-lane to two-lane span because of a lack of funding and environmental concerns over widening U.S. 64 between Manns Harbor and Columbia.
NCDOT applied for the federal grant in May. It named its application STERLING (Strengthening Transportation Evacuation Resilient Lifeline by Improving the Network’s Grid) in memory of former Division 1 Engineer Sterling Baker, who passed away in April.
“Sterling dedicated his life to NCDOT and the northeastern North Carolina community. He would be proud the grant project for this bridge would highlight his work ingenuity and character he showed to get the job done for citizens,” said Baker’s wife, Elizabeth Mumm Baker. “It is really special, and his family will be honored that he will forever be part of eastern North Carolina. Thank you for this tribute honoring his legacy.”