A temporary manufactured bridge will be installed across the largest breach at Hatteras Island, restoring traffic on N.C. 12 within a month, Gov. Bev Perdue announced Friday.
Hatteras Island has been cut off from the mainland since Hurricane Irene's storm surge washed out big chunks of the highway a week ago, creating a new inlet at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Other breaches will be filled to restore the road while the state Department of Transportation comes up with a long-term plan for N.C. 12, which has been knocked out repeatedly by storms over the years.
The repair will cost an estimated $10 million and will be paid for by emergency federal funds, Perdue's office said. The short-term solution was developed after transportation officials consulted with 75 experts, contractors and scientists.
The bridge will span 650 feet and will be installed about six miles south of the Bonner Bridge on Pea Island. The manufactured bridge will be shipped in about 35 truckloads and assembled at the site. It is metal, so it can't be a permanent solution in a marine environment, DOT said.
The bridge will be able to support normal car and truck traffic, though the speed limit will be reduced.
After the storm hit, a ferry to Hatteras was set up on the mainland at Stumpy Point, but that has been limited to delivery of essential supplies and the movement of emergency personnel and people with special medical needs.
Starting Sunday, residents can use the Stumpy Point ferry to return to the island. The staged operation will begin with the three communities where it is safest to return: Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras.
Buxton residents will be allowed to return Sunday, followed by Hatteras residents Monday and Frisco residents Tuesday. There will be six ferries a day, and residents will be sorted by their last names to avoid crowding. (For example, only Buxton residents whose last names begin with A, B, C or D will be allowed on the first ferry leaving Stumpy Point at 6 a.m.)
County officials say as conditions improve and utility services are restored in the island's remaining villages, residents will be allowed to return north of Buxton.
Non-residents will not be permitted on the ferries. Before boarding the ferry, a vehicle driver must present a driver's license showing a local address for the village designated for re-entry, with a last name matching the alphabetically indexed boarding times.
It is unclear how long it will take the state to develop a long-term solution for N.C. 12. Perdue has directed DOT to work closely with experts and local, state and federal agencies to create a strategy as soon as possible.