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Oregon Inlet is an inlet along North Carolina's Outer Banks. It joins the Pamlico Sound with the Atlantic Ocean and separates Bodie Island from Pea Island, which are connected by a 2.5 mile bridge that spans the inlet. As one of the few access points to the ocean along this stretch of coast, Oregon Inlet is a major departure point for charter fishing trips, with a nearby harbor serving as the base for many large boats that travel miles out towards the Gulf Stream almost every day. The area is also home to a U.S. Coast Guard station.
Oregon Inlet was formed when a hurricane lashed the Outer Banks in 1846, separating Bodie Island from Pea Island. One ship that rode out that storm in Pamlico Sound was named the Oregon. After the storm the crew members of this ship were the first to tell those on the mainland about the inlet's formation. Hence, it has been known as Oregon Inlet ever since.
Akin to many other inlets along the Outer Banks, Oregon Inlet moves southward due to drifting sands during tides and storms. It has moved south over two miles since 1846, averaging around 66 feet per year.
The Coast Guard station at Oregon Inlet is currently located at its fourth site since it began as a lifesaving station in 1883. It was one of 29 lifesaving stations Congress approved and appropriated funds for a decade earlier. By 1888, the Oregon Inlet Station had to be relocated to a new site. It is assumed that this relocation was necessary because of the shifting of the channel to the south and the encroachment of the ocean from the east. The station was decommissioned and moved to a new safer location some 400 feet westward toward the sound.
Less than a decade later a storm totally destroyed the Oregon Inlet Station. By 1897, a new station was under construction and was completed in 1898 for less than $7,000. As part of a modernization program in 1933-34, the Oregon Inlet Station was extensively modified to look very much like it does today. In 1979, a new extension was added. By 1988, the station was completely abandoned when the southward migration of the Oregon Inlet threatened to swallow it.
In July 1990, a ceremonial ground breaking was held for a new $3.5 million building, located just behind the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, on the north side of the inlet. The new station was designed with the traditional architectural design of older stations located on the Outer Banks in mind.
Prior to the building of the bridge, Hatteras Island was only accessible by air or ferry. Ferries could carry a maximum of 2,000 people per day. The ferries cost the state $0.5 million per year to operate, and there were very long lines waiting for the ferries during peak season. The Bonner Bridge cost $4 million to build. Of that amount, the state of North Carolina paid $1.5 million, and the federal government paid $2.5 million. The arrangement for a portion of the state's cost to be paid by the National Park Service was arranged by Rep. Herbert C. Bonner, for whom the bridge is named.
The environmental impact on the bridge and road was not fully understood at the time of construction, and now constant beach erosion, severe weather and high volume of traffic continually forces the state to protect the integrity of the road system. As much as $50 million was spent between 1987 and 1999 to repair and protect the Bonner Bridge and NC 12 from the ocean.
While most bridges are expected to last for fifty years, the Bonner Bridge was expected to have a thirty-year lifespan when it was built because of the harsh environment that the bridge was expected to withstand. The bridge handles about 2 million cars per year, and the state DOT ranks it a 4 on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the safest.
In October 1990, a dredge collided with the bridge during a storm, causing severe damage to several of the spans. While isolated, Hatteras Island could only be accessed by boat or plane for many weeks while emergency construction was underway to replace its only highway link to the mainland.
The Federal Highway Administration has approved the plan to replace the bridge over Oregon Inlet that connects with Pea Island and lies within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The final alignment of the bridge has not yet been determined yet. Once a final alignment is chosen, construction of the new bridge, which will be longer and curve farther inland, will begin. It will cost approximately $1.3 billion and should by completed by 2014, although it is likely to be later.