• Engineers say new Outer Banks bridge to open by March

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    NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina highway engineers are planning to open the new bridge linking the Outer Banks by March, ending three years of construction initially delayed by lawsuits.

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    The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reports engineers say the new bridge, which spans Oregon Inlet and connects N.C. Highway 12 and Hatteras Island to the mainland, could see traffic as soon as March 1.

    The new bridge roadway will rise 90.5 feet (27.5 meters) above the water at its highest point. The high-rise portion is 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) long. It was added to the state wish list known as the State Transportation Improvement Program in 1989-1990. In July 2011, the state issued a design-build contract with construction scheduled to begin in early 2013.

    But lawsuits filed by environmental groups delayed the process until they were settled in 2015. Construction finally began in March 2016.

    The 2.8-mile (4.5 kilometer)-long bridge will run parallel to the existing Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which was built in 1963. Maintenance has kept the original bridge open to traffic, although it was closed for over a week in December 2013 because the loss of sand around the pilings made the bridge unsafe.

    The new, $252 million bridge has a life span of 100 years, said Pablo Hernandez, the resident engineer for the district that includes the bridge.

    Among the final touches for the bridge, a machine will finish cutting traction grooves into the concrete deck. Crews are also pouring concrete for the final barriers on the sides of the bridge.

    Workers are attaching the final metal rails on top of finished barriers. They provide support for cyclists and pedestrians when big trucks pass, Hernandez said. The bridge will have two 12-foot-wide lanes with 8-foot shoulders for cyclists, pedestrians and disabled vehicles. The old one has 2-foot shoulders.

    Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative will soon finish running cables under the bridge's surface to provide power to Hatteras Island.

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    The old Bonner Bridge will be demolished, and plans are to beef up the existing reefs off the Outer Banks with 80,000 tons of concrete from that span.

    Dare County is asking the public for help in finding a name for the new bridge. Since Jan. 11, more than 300 suggestions have come in, said spokeswoman Dorothy Hester. The suggestions include retaining the Bonner bridge name, or naming it for former state Sen. Marc Basnight.

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    Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

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