"Some infrastructure projects are so large and complex that they defy traditional funding systems — and so significant that they become iconic parts of the American landscape,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “After receiving over 100 applications, we are proud to fund these nine infrastructure megaprojects across the country to create jobs, strengthen our supply chains, expand our economy, and renew America’s built landscape.”
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) was awarded $110 million for the replacement of the 61-year-old Alligator River Bridge on U.S. Highway 64 in Dare and Tyrrell Counties. Completed in 1962, the existing machinery-driven movable swing bridge has more than 4,000 boats pass through every year and is a critical hurricane evacuation route. However, the aging structure is in deteriorated condition, experiencing occasional mechanical failures that can cause an over 100-mile detour for motorists. NCDOT estimates that Alligator River Bridge closings have also accounted for the loss of millions of dollars in recent years.
The proposed $289.5 million project will replace the current bridge with a modern high-rise fixed-span bridge, which will be approximately 3.2 miles in length, with a vertical clearance of 65 feet to accommodate the navigational channel, two 12-foot lanes with eight-foot shoulders, and railings to separate bicycle traffic from vehicle traffic. The Mega grant program will also help fund the installation of broadband infrastructure in the region.
“As one of only two major routes to popular Outer Banks beaches and an important hurricane evacuation route, it is vital that a fixed-span high-rise bridge be put in its place to ease congestion and facilitate evacuation in case of an emergency,” said Win Bridgers, NCDOT’s Division One Engineer. “The proposed high-rise bridge will allow maritime traffic to traverse the intercoastal waterway without the risk of being delayed by potential mechanical issues with the swing span operation.”
NCDOT named the project STERLING (Strengthening Transportation Evacuation Resilient Lifeline by Improving the Network’s Grid) in honor of former Division 1 Engineer, Sterling Baker, who passed away in April 2022. The STERLING project will improve travel times and safety for vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians, along with allowing for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by facilitating boat passage.
“By improving transportation between the Outer Banks and the economically distressed mainland of eastern North Carolina, the new Alligator River Bridge will be an economic boon to the entire region and a safer, more reliable transportation option for both residents and visitors to the area,” Bridgers said.
NCDOT has completed preliminary design work on the project, and is now going into final design, permitting, and right-of-way acquisition. The department estimates that construction will begin sometime in 2024.