Politics & Government

It’s official: The new bridge to Hatteras Island will be named for Marc Basnight

Bonner Bridge replacement opens for public use

The replacement for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet officially opened on Feb. 25, 2019 as cars were allowed across the Oregon Inlet bridge for the first time.
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The replacement for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet officially opened on Feb. 25, 2019 as cars were allowed across the Oregon Inlet bridge for the first time.

Visitors and residents to Hatteras Island will cross Oregon Inlet on the Marc Basnight Bridge.

The state Board of Transportation unanimously approved naming the new bridge for the longtime leader of the state Senate. Basnight’s daughters, Vicki and Caroline, were on hand when the vote was taken at the board’s monthly meeting in Winston-Salem on Thursday.

The Basnight name was requested by the Dare County commissioners, which voted 3-2 in favor of the change in January. The $252 million bridge, which carries N.C. 12 over the inlet, opened Feb. 25 and replaces the Bonner C. Bridge that opened in 1963.

The board made the change over the objections of hundreds of full- and part-time Hatteras Island residents, who wrote letters and emails and signed a petition in recent weeks urging that the new bridge retain the name of the old one. While most of those people are grateful for Basnight’s contributions to coastal communities over the years, they saw no reason to abandon the Bonner name that they’ve always known.

The Bonner Bridge will be demolished, except for a 1,000-foot section at the south end that will remain in place as a pedestrian walkway and possibly a fishing pier. The Board of Transportation agreed that the walkway would retain the Bonner name.

The opposition coalesced around the “KEEP It Bonner” Facebook page, which received 1,645 likes. More than 1,340 people signed a petition urging the board not to approve the Basnight name.

Jayson Collier of Frisco, who created the Facebook page and sent in the petition, watched the vote over the Internet from the coast.

“The fact that not a single one objected and there wasn’t even discussion on the matter leaves us speechless,” Collier wrote in an email. “That level of disregard for public sentiment has NO place in today’s government.”

Gus Tulloss, the transportation board member from Rocky Mount, read the resolution naming the new bridge for Basnight. Tulloss said board members were aware of the opposition among Hatteras Island residents but decided Basnight’s work on behalf of the entire state made him deserving.

“We are aware of their interest and their feelings, and we certainly listened to it,” he said in an interview after the vote. “But he was the longest-serving president of the Senate in the history of North Carolina, and for what he did for the whole state, we just felt it deserved to be named after him.”

Basnight’s daughter Vicki Basnight, who made the trip to Winston-Salem with her sister Caroline and other family members, was emotional as she described the naming.

“Growing up, he took us under the bridge fishing. He took my mom, who is no longer with us, clamming. That was something we did every Sunday,” she said in an interview. “So for that body of water to be connected, from land to land, with his name, it means a lot. It really means a lot.”

Basnight is a native of Manteo and represented the area in the state Senate from 1984 until 2011, when he stepped down for health reasons. Vicki Basnight said her father can’t speak or walk very well, but he’s still at the family’s restaurant, Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe on the causeway between Manteo and Nags Head, every day and “his mind is as sharp as ever.”

Since the 1980s, N.C. 12 has been known as the “Marc Basnight Highway” from Whalebone Junction down the length of Hatteras Island to the ferry dock in Ocracoke Village. The Board of Transportation rescinded the highway name Thursday, in keeping with state policy that prohibits naming more than one bridge, highway or ferry after someone.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 19 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.