State transportation officials have reopened the vulnerable Outer Banks highway to traffic for the first time in nearly two months after it was closed by Hurricane Sandy, but they don’t know how long it will stay open before another storm closes it again.
Department of Transportation crews will be working into January to provide more protection from the surf for the vulnerable “S-curves” stretch of N.C. 12 that passes close to the beach just north of Rodanthe.
“There’s additional work that has to be done there,” said Jerry Jennings, who oversees DOT operations for a 14-county area in northeastern North Carolina. “We’ll be working over the next several weeks to complete sandbag work, and a dune will be built over the top of the sandbags.”
DOT has spent about $2 million to repair and reopen two stretches of N.C. 12 on Pea Island since Sandy struck in late October. It took more than $1.5 million to operate an emergency ferry service that provided the only mainland link for tourists and 4,500 permanent residents of Hatteras Island.
The ferry from Stumpy Point on the mainland to Rodanthe on Hatteras Island was shut down after the newly paved section of N.C. 12 just north of Rodanthe was reopened Wednesday evening.
With the recent repairs to the highway, DOT engineers hope to buy some time until they can start work next year on a pair of major projects – costing an estimated $226 million – that are intended to provide more long-term stability for the Outer Banks road. Both would elevate parts of N.C. 12 above the ocean that regularly washes over the road.
A contract to be awarded in March, estimated to cost $107 million, would lift a 2.3-mile section of the highway 25 feet above the present roadway, in an area on Pea Island between Oregon Inlet and Rodanthe.
It would replace a 600-foot temporary steel bridge erected last fall over a breach opened in the island by Hurricane Irene.
A second contract, to be awarded in August at an estimated cost of $119 million, would do the same thing along the S-curves area near Rodanthe.