Island Free Press: Jug Handle Bridge nears halfway mark, still expected to open fall 2021

Construction of the southern half of the new bridge at Rodanthe had already reached well into the Pamlico Sound in mid-July 2020. [NCDOT photo]

By Joy Crist,
The new Jug Handle Bridge is 46 percent complete and is on track to open to the public in the fall of 2021, per a Thursday night update from North Carolina Department of Transportation’s resident engineer for the project, Pablo Hernandez.

Installation of 52 of 108 bents, the groups of pilings that will support each individual span of the bridge, has been completed. A total of 189 out of 352 pilings complete.

“Those are the rows of pilings that are under the driving surface of the bridge,” said Hernandez.

In addition, 43 out of 107 of deck spans have been completed so far, and expenditures as of August 24 are $100,428,600, which includes design and permitting, out of an overall contract value of $145,336,271.

On the north end of the bridge, pile installation has been more challenging than NCDOT personnel expected, and Hernandez confirmed at Thursday evening’s update that the northern end of the project was going noticeably slower than the southern end.

Several different techniques have been explored over the past several months to ease these installation difficulties, and NCDOT personnel are currently utilizing a 36-inch diameter auger to loosen the soil during the pile installation.

At the southern end of the bridge project, drainage pipes, earthworks, and paving for the roundabout initially took place in April 2020. The next phase of paving and curbing for the roundabout and the bridge’s roadway approach is expected to take place this fall.

Work zones and single lane closures of N.C. 12 are anticipated for a portion of this work, but may be minimal.

“We don’t expect a tremendous number of lane closures for that paving and roadwork to take place,” said Hernandez. “When we do need lane closures, we’ll announce it through social media and press releases.”

At Thursday’s update, Hernandez also noted that with the cooler fall weather on the horizon, the early morning concrete placements should be reduced or eliminated, however, this could change due to schedule demands.

In addition, NCDOT officials anticipate that the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative will also begin the first phase of the relocation of area transmission lines in October. “The goal is to stage (the CHEC work) so that the impacts do not impact the adjacent (NCDOT) contractors completing their work,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez also confirmed that after the death of an employee at the site on August 24, work has fully resumed as of August 28.

The Jug Handle Bridge will stretch from the southern portion of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to northern Rodanthe, and will bypass the S-Turns section of N.C. Highway 12, which is highly susceptible to breaches and ocean overwash during storms.

Once the bridge is complete, the former N.C. 12 roadway will terminate roughly 33 feet south of the refuge boundary, or just north of Green Lantern Court in Rodanthe. The rest of the original roadway within the refuge will be removed.

Sandbags south of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge boundary will stay in place, however, additional sandbags in the future will require a CAMA permit.

NCDOT officials also confirmed that there will not be a parking area at the southern boundary of the refuge, (or north of Green Lantern Court), however, NCDOT will construct a new parking lot approximately .5 miles north of the new bridge.

The new parking lot will be the replacement for the lot that was removed near the New Inlet to make way for the Captain Richard Etheredge Bridge.

The 2.4 mile-long Jug Handle Bridge, along with the Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge on Pea Island which was completed in the spring of 2018 and the Bonner Bridge replacement which was completed in the spring of 2019, is considered part of Phase II of the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project, and is the final bridge of the three new bridges on Hatteras Island to be built.

Updates on the status of the Jug Handle Bridge, as well as planned construction activities in the coming month, are available online at

In addition, more information on the bridge project, which includes project history, maps, documents, and videos, can be found at

The next Jug Handle Bridge update will be on December 3, 2020. It is not yet known whether the meeting will once again be virtual, or a live meeting, depending on coronavirus concerns.