For generations, people have gathered on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to cast their lines into the surf in hopes of catching a member of the dozens of fish species
that feed in the breakers. Surf casting
is a popular vacation activity, offering harried city dwellers a chance to let the rhythm of waves, wind and sun wash away the tensions of the world.
If the viewer zooms in (just to the left of the woman in the striped swimsuit), the line of the Herbert C. Bonner bridge is visible on the southern horizon. The bridge spans Oregon Inlet, the only barrier island break in the northern part of the Outer Banks. The inlet provides access for boats between the Atlantic Ocean and the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound. It is the only navigable inlet between Cape Henry, Virginia, and Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Vessels using the inlet represent both commercial and recreational fishing interests.
Because of the nature of barrier islands, the inlet's channels are constantly shifting, requiring constant dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A proposal to build two of the world's largest jetties
to stabilize the inlet was rejected in 2003
in favor of increased dredging and upgraded navigational aids.
The Bonner Bridge, dedicated on 2 May 1964, extends NC Highway 12
to Hatteras Island, connecting it to the northern Outer Banks. The bridge replaced a slow ferry that could only carry a few hundred cars a day. Over the ensuing 42 years, millions of visitors have precipitated a building boom on the barrier island, changing its culture and ecosystem dramatically.
Not only does the bridge carry commercial and tourist traffic, it is the quickest route for evacuation of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands if a hurricane approaches. During hurricane season, thousands of residents and tourists would use it as an evacuation route.
The age of the bridge and the shifting nature of barrier islands have caused the NC Department of Transportation to consider replacement solutions for the bridge. Several have been proposed
, and all are controversial. Complicating the matter is the fact that two natural areas - the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge
and the Hatteras National Seashore
would be affected by some of the proposals.