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Construction of new Outer Banks bridge attracts sightseers

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NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP) — Construction of a North Carolina bridge to replace the one that links isolated Hatteras Island to the mainland is attracting sightseers even though it's not quite halfway finished.

Dare County commissioner Danny Couch tells The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that people enjoy crossing the old Bonner Bridge, stopping on the sandy roadside and taking photos of the new structure.

Island resident and Dare County commissioner Danny Couch tells The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that people enjoy crossing the current Bonner Bridge, stopping on the sandy roadside and taking photos.

"It's going to be one of the single biggest attractions down here just to cross it," Couch said. "It's absolutely fascinating."

The $250 million span across the Oregon Inlet along North Carolina's Outer Banks will be 2.8 miles long. It's scheduled to open in late 2018.

Engineers ran the design through more than 100,000 computer simulations of the 45 worst storms to strike the Outer Banks in the past 160 years, the newspaper reported. They even accounted for a big barge slamming into its supports as happened to the current bridge in 1990.

No other bridge in North Carolina is quite like the Bonner Bridge replacement, said Pablo Hernandez, the bridge's engineer.

"It is a civil engineer's dream to work on a project like this," Hernandez said. "The people here depend on Highway 12."

Both residents and tourists have waited years for the new bridge, which was delayed by legal wrangling and budget concerns. When the original Bonner Bridge was built in 1963, it had an expected life span of 30 years.

State transportation officials and environmental groups reached an agreement in June 2015 that allowed for construction of the new bridge. The environmental groups had wanted a 17-mile route around the wildlife refuge to connect the village of Rodanthe and other communities on Hatteras Island. State officials said it would have cost more than $1 billion.

Here's the new bridge by the numbers:

— The high-rise portion will cover more than a half mile, with seven spans 300 feet wide. That will make travel safer for boats.

— The new bridge will be nearly 20 feet higher and a half-mile longer than the current one.

— Underwater foundations are made up of as many as 30 individual concrete pilings imbedded in the soil below as deep as 100 feet and set at an angle for extra strength. The current bridge pilings go into the soil 30 feet to 50 feet.

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