The new bridge is 3,600 feet long and its apex is 65 feet above mean high tide. Roundabouts at each end will help control traffic.

SURF CITY -- The new high-rise bridge opened Tuesday – some 10 months ahead of projections.

It was scheduled to open in September 2019.

In truth, it might have been better had the N.C. Department of Transportation put off the opening for a day or so. Many of those attending the ribbon cutting got caught in a frustrating traffic backup, partly the result of the old bridge being still in the swing of things and partly while officials waited for the fresh paint on traffic lanes – the final touch in the bridge’s construction -- to dry before allowing attendees’ cars to park on the span for the ceremony, and to cross the structure at the ceremony’s conclusion and the bridge’s official opening.

Kyle Sumer and Katrina Turner got married on the old swing bridge in the hour before the new bridge was dedicated.

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Tuesday morning’s ribbon cutting took place near the apex of the bridge, with brief remarks from local and N.C. DOT officials. Prior to the opening ceremony, island residents were allowed to cross the bridge on foot to join the festivities – and join the motorists who were caught in what was hoped to be a final traffic snarl.

Still, the attitude was festive when everyone finally arrived. Referring to former Mayor Zander Guy, Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin said “Zander always told me, you’ve got to grow or die. Surf City is definitely growing. We are in the phase of a new life, a new career.

“We are still going to be a family beach,” he added. “You will probably see some more growth on the island because (of this bridge), but most of it will be residential. ... It will definitely increase commercial (development) off the island because it will make it much easier to get on and off the island. You won’t ... have to worry about getting off the island because of the (old swing) bridge.”

The new bridge is 3,600 feet long and, at the site of the ribbon cutting, 65 feet above mean high tide. Roundabouts at each end will help control traffic.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the bridge is a wide bicycle and pedestrian lane across its span, a lane wide enough to serve standard vehicles in the event of an island-wide evacuation.

The early opening of the bridge is good news for Balfour Beatty, which won the contract for the $54 million span. The company has earned incentives totaling $10,000 per day for each day the bridge is open prior to the contract date next fall – about $3 million.

Perhaps more importantly, N.C. DOT Chief Operating Officer Bobby Lewis pointed out, is that Balfour Beatty logged more than 400,000 work hours without an injury incident, a mark that earned the bridge construction a state Department of Labor citation.

Early opening is a good deal for taxpayers, too, according to N.C. DOT representatives, who have pointed out the increasing inflation of costs associated with maintenance of the swing bridge, circa 1955.

“This is the way contracts need to be done,” said Pender County Commissioner David Piepmeyer. “Incentives are a great management tool, plus the people who are affected by this bridge get it earlier.”

The incentive payments are not all gravy to the contractor and the subs. “Balfour Beatty and all the subcontractors involved have basically had to double their staffs,” in order to complete the job so quickly, an N.C. DOT spokesman pointed out. “Additionally, the contractor had to purchase additional equipment.”

Some local businesses have been negatively affected, and some residents are withholding judgment about how effectively the roundabouts will ease traffic congestion. But pretty much everyone agrees: The old swing bridge had outlived its usefulness.

Balfour Beatty will own and remove the old swing bridge. While there have been a few inquiries from contractors interested in using it elsewhere, it will probably end up as scrap, company officials have said.

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