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By Richard Taylor
NAGS HEAD — While waterfowl enjoyed heavy rains in Tuesday afternoon’s fast-moving nor’easter, a veritable who’s who of local, state and federal officials gathered under a large tent to honor Marc Basnight at the new Oregon Inlet bridge named in the former state senator’s honor.
The new $254 million bridge dwarfs the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which served the lower Outer Banks since it was built in 1963.
For over an hour, speakers applauded Basnight’s dedication to public service and his powerful voice in the N.C. General Assembly which brought much recognition and state money to the Outer Banks and the entire eastern half of the state over his 26-year career in state government from 1984 to 2010.
Owner of the popular Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café on the U.S. 64 causeway between Manteo and Nags Head, Basnight resigned from the senate in January 2011 due to health reasons.
Although Basnight did not attend the bridge-naming ceremony, his daughters, Caroline and Vicki, read aloud a letter in the senator’s own handwriting.
“You gathered here today to honor me,” Basnight wrote. “But this naming belongs to many. Bridges bring people together and never divide. So, to all people in the great state of North Carolina who helped make our bridge a new must see in America, I thank you.”
Gov. Roy Cooper, who gave the keynote address to the standing-room-only audience of nearly 200, said that throughout his service, Basnight was a champion for everyday people and his beloved Outer Banks.
“This new bridge that bears his name will be a critical link for Outer Banks residents and visitors for generations,” he said.
Basnight cared about getting things done, he said.
“To this very day, he’s still giving me advice,” the governor said.
Outer Banks Group Superintendent David Hallac said, “the National Park Service is proud to be part of this team.” Hallac was the only speaker to mention Ocracoke specifically.
Others who spoke included N.C. Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon, Frisco’s Natalie Kavanaugh; Rebekah Martin of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Dare County Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard.
After the dignitaries cut the red ribbon, the governor was first to sign the historical Bonner Bridge commemorative abutment.
The new $252 million Marc Basnight Bridge opened to traffic Feb. 25, three years after its March 2016 ground-breaking.
This is the first bridge in the state to be built with stainless reinforcing steel, which will help it better withstand the harsh coastal saltwater environment.
With pilings embedded as deep as 130 feet into the bottom of Oregon Inlet, it is capable of withstanding high winds and up to 84 feet of scour, which is when sand is washed away from its pilings.
The new span, which has a projected 100-year lifespan, stands 90-feet above the water at its peak and has seven navigation channels underneath its 2.8-mile length over the Oregon Inlet.
Before the Bonner Bridge completion in 1963, Oregon Inlet ferries could only carry some 200 vehicles a day, and speakers on Tuesday noted how the Bonner Bridge greatly boosted tourism.
The old bridge is being dismantled, and a 1,000-foot span of it, retaining the Bonner name, will remain for pedestrians and fishermen. Part of the bridge also will be used as offshore reef sites.
For this new bridge, locals had suggested many names, but after support from the Dare Co. Board of Commissioners, the N.C. Board of Transportation voted March 7 to name the massive structure after Basnight.
Concrete from the old Bonner Bridge will be used as offshore reef habitat. Attendees at Tuesday’s ceremony received small souvenir chunks of original Bonner concrete in small plastic bags.