Funding from the law will help replace the 61-year-old Alligator River Bridge between Tyrrell and Dare counties. The project is a “life-changing” one, writes Nathan Everett, the Chair of the Tyrrell County Board of Commissioners.
Picture this: someone in your life is having a medical emergency. You live in a small town and must travel at least 30 miles by ambulance to the nearest emergency center. You hold their hand as the paramedics rush you both to the hospital. But then the ambulance comes to an abrupt stop. You look outside the window and see the bridge you are traveling across is broken. As the bridge tender hurries to fix it, every minute feels like an hour, but it’s better than your other option: taking a 99-mile detour.
This is not a fictional scenario, this is a real-life situation that I faced while in an ambulance crossing the Alligator River Bridge. The 61-year-old drawbridge regularly malfunctions when closing, leaving the tens of thousands of residents in risky situations like the one I encountered. As a critical hurricane evacuation route, a malfunctioning bridge could be a matter of life or death.
Around nine years ago, officials were told that the state would begin constructing the replacement for the Alligator River Bridge. But in 2016 under the previous Governor’s administration, those infrastructure funds were reallocated, and our project was put on the back burner. I can’t tell you how depressed we were when we heard the news. We lobbied the previous governor and our legislators, and Dare, Hyde and Washington counties joined the fight because everybody realized that this was a bad situation.
We’d all but lost hope for the project when President Biden took office and conversations around the replacement bridge were revived. There was all this buzz about infrastructure funding and, if an infrastructure bill were to pass, we would get the money we needed for the Alligator River Bridge project.
Finally, the Alligator River Bridge is getting replaced thanks to much-needed and long-overdue infrastructure funding from the Biden administration. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) called a stakeholder meeting to tell us the news. When I came home that night I almost collapsed with satisfaction knowing someone was finally hearing us. When I heard that the bridge is one of nine major bridge projects funded under the infrastructure bill, I felt elated and relieved.
As a county commissioner in Tyrrell County, I know how important this bridge is to the livelihoods of our residents as well as the local economy. We are a small community, just under 3,500 people. Over a third of our workforce commutes outside of the county for work, and from my experience, the majority of those workers are driving across the Alligator River Bridge. Some drive an excess of 80 miles one way to work on the tourist beaches, and many do it six or even seven days a week.
The bridge has served as the only link from Columbia to the Outer Banks for most of my life. Originally constructed in 1962, the bridge is currently in poor condition. The drawbridge opens over 4,000 times a year to allow boats to pass, often getting stuck open and obstructing traffic until bridge tenders can fix it. But even when it doesn’t get stuck, waiting for the bridge to open and close still causes traffic to extend for miles outside the bridge, especially in the tourism high season.
From my position in local government, I see the average citizen that believes the government is broken. But this project is a testament to the opposite. I had the privilege of working closely with Senator Tillis, local county officials, and NCDOT who all worked tirelessly to ensure the Alligator River Bridge project received federal infrastructure funding. It was truly amazing to see people on both sides of the aisle in the federal and state governments come together to put politics aside and make this bridge happen.
Coming from a point where this project was abandoned to where we are today, it would absolutely not have happened without the passage of the Infrastructure Law. I give a lot of credit to the President for carrying it through Congress and across party lines, to deliver for the American people.
This is more than just a bridge, it’s a life-changing project. It’s going to make a major difference in many areas, from safety to convenience to commerce. There’s no way to put into words all of the effects that this bridge will have. The project even extends broadband, yet another area of need in my community that prior to getting infrastructure funding for, we hadn’t been able to do anything about. All of these projects may sound mundane, but for a community like mine, they are life-changing.