Discover The 6 Most Devastating Bridge Collapses In North Carolina

Written by Justin Sexton
Published: November 7, 2023
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Mebane Bridge in Eden, North Carolina

©Indy beetle, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

North Carolina’s geography is divided into three portions: The Atlantic Coast Terrain, The Piedmont Plateau, and The Appalachian Mountains. The state’s geography greatly varies with its many beaches and its high mountains. With many rivers and elevated points in the land, North Carolina has plenty of bridges to get from Point A to Point B. Via North Carolina’s Department of Transportation (NCDOT), there are over 18,500 bridges. In the total count, there are 13,700 bridges. However, the state has 4,800 culverts and pipes that are twenty feet or longer which technically fits the federal definition of a bridge.

The longest bridge in North Carolina is the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. It spans over 27,000 feet and close to six miles. The bridge cuts across the Croatan Sound and helps drivers get from Mans Harbor to Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks.

North Carolina is prone to severe weather like flooding and snowstorms that can create wear and tear on the bridges. Via NCDOT on January 2023, over one thousand bridges were in poor condition. NCDOT says that the poor-condition bridges are safe to drive on, however, they have parts that are deteriorating.

What Can Make A Bridge Collapse?

Via the Journal of Trafic and Transportation Engineering, some of the things that can make bridges collapse are:

  • Construction mistakes
  • Overload
  • Hydraulic collision
  • Design error

Bridges need frequent checkups and protection measures to help prevent collapses due to extreme loads. Keep reading to learn more about several of North Carolina’s recent bridge collapses and what caused them.

1. Rudy Wright Pedestrian Bridge

A small clip shows the red arches of the pedestrian bridge collapsing.

In February 2022, the City of Hickory saw the arches of the Rudy Wright pedestrian bridge collapse. Fortunately, no one was hurt at the time of the arches collapsing. The bridge crosses over the 127 highway. WCNC Meteorologist Chris Mulcahy said the Hickory Airport got wing gusts of 30 mph during a storm that night.

The City of Hickory sued three different companies due to the bridge collapse. Hickory sued the three companies for negligence of work on the 40-ton bridge and breaches of contract during its construction. Its collapse resulted in the closing of another bridge, the Main Avenue Bridge, until March 7th. In October of this year, The City of Hickory got a 1.3 million dollar settlement from the lawsuit.

2. A Bridge Collapse in Alexander County

While the Fox affiliate news station covered a flood in 2020, the live crew caught a bridge they were standing on collapse in a clean straight line. The severe flood waters led to the collapse, but there are other factors to consider in this bridge collapse. Was frequent work done to maintain its structure? Doubtful, but that’s an assumption. The bridge also could’ve been old and needed some new parts to replace the worn-out components.

3. Unmarked Bridge Collapse In Hickory, NC Leads To A Man’s Death

WCNC, The NBC Affiliate news station of Charlotte, covers the tragic death due to a collapsed bridge.

In 2022, Phillip Paxson died after driving off an unmarked collapsed bridge in Hickory, North Carolina. It was said that he was using Google Maps to drive and they did not update the maps properly. The Paxson family sued Google for not updating the maps.

The New York Times reported that Paxson was coming home from his daughter’s camping-themed ninth birthday party. During the drive, he navigated unfamiliar roads in rainy weather and drove across the Snow Creek Bridge. Mrs. Paxson was devastated at the news and searched his phone after the accident. She found that his phone had Google Maps open. A Google Spokesman gave the family their condolences and planned to review the lawsuit. Google Maps has directed drivers to cross that bridge, even after its collapse in 2013, according to the lawsuit.

In the 2020 NYT article, they said the bridge wasn’t fixed and Google Maps didn’t update their maps in that area a year later after the tragic death. NCDOT states that the bridge is owned privately, so the Department of Transportation has no jurisdiction in repairing the bridge. This incident does create the question: who is to blame when fatalities or injuries occur because of faulty driving directions?

4. Washout Of Polk County Bridge

In June, the first bridge on Howard Gap Road from Lynn Road in Tyron, NC collapsed due to severe rain. The area was dealing with heavy rain throughout the day. NCDOT stated that the bridge had several cracks that could’ve caused it to break more. The Old Howard Gap Road area was also closed because of mudslides and fallen trees. NCDOT reported that it would take months to prepare the bridge and this incident led to them inspecting other bridges in the area to see if they can withstand extreme weather conditions. The area had other washouts in the past that have closed a few highways such as the Howard Gap Road in Polk County during the 2019 year.

5. The Collapse Of Bronner Bridge

WAVY, a news station that covers everything in the Outer Banks and Eastern Virginia area, had a news segment about the unfortunate bridge collapse.

In 2021, a portion of the Bronner Bridge collapsed as workers were dismantling a section of the old Bronner Bridge. That section of the bridge fell 110 feet into the Oregon Inlet. Traffic cameras took pictures of the incident. They showed that the road deck had been removed from the steel girders and stacked on top of them.

The section of the bridge that collapsed was the last section that needed to be demolished. It was the tallest portion of the old Bronner Bridge. Bronner Bridge was first opened in 1963 but has deteriorated so much throughout the decades. The Marc Basnight Bridge was built parallel in place of the Bronner Bridge. The Marc Basnight Bridge opened in 2019. There was only one injury and one fatality as a result of the collapse.

Bronner Bridge connected the Hatteras Islands with the rest of the Outer Banks area. It also connected the Oregon Inlet Campground to the Oregon Inlet Saving Station. The bridge once served as a better way for people to evacuate from the Outer Banks and onto the higher lands. Nowadays, the remaining portion of the bridge is used as a popular pier. The Bronner Bridge Pier opened in 2021. It is a wonderful place for natives and tourists to go sightseeing, fishing, and walking. It’s open twenty-four hours and the pier is 1,046 feet long.

6. Atlantic Beach Dock Collapse

An ABC Affiliate News Station covering the dock collapse.

Not all bridges have two sides. Per the United States Department of Agriculture, docks are bridges. It’s a bridge that’s connected to land at only one end. Docks are also piers. Based on the USDA’s definition of bridges, piers are also bridges.

In September 2023, WITN reported a dock collapsing at Captain Stacy’s Fishing Center. The Atlantic City Fire Marshall said the collapse occurred before 6:30 a.m. on that day. A group of people were loading up a charter fishing boat. Staff members told the fire marshall that nine or ten people actually went out in the water. They were quickly rescued by Captain Stacy’s staff alongside the local fire and police departments. The passengers did come out of the wreckage with scrapes and bruises. Four people were taken to a hospital for healthcare. They fortunately had non-life-threatening injuries. Officials said the others injured refused medical treatment.

The cause of the dock collapsing is unknown. The dock could have a history of wear and tear due to the harsh waters and lack of reinforcement.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mikeiamunion21, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License / Original

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About the Author

Justin is an A-Z Animals Writer that loves to cover places, unique natural disasters, and travel. He has eight years of experience as a writer in the medical and media fields. He wrote for the likes of VCU Health, theMSQshop, PayDay LA, and Comic Book Resources under the penname Jay Guevara. Although he's a full time writer, Justin graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2019 with a Bachelors in Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science with a background in Community Engagement. After spending over two decades in Richmond, Virginia, Justin now resides in the suburbs of Rancho Cucamonga, California. He's a dedicated gymrat. He's also a two-time poetry author who's influenced by rappers Joe Budden and IDK along with Dante Alighieri.

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