Bridge collapses into Ahoskie Creek

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2004

AHOSKIE – Bonner’s Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning after North Carolina DOT (Department of Transportation) workers, performing repairs on the span, apparently punctured a natural gas line under the bridge.

The bridge spans the Ahoskie Creek on SR 1108, a connector road that runs between NC 42 and NC 11 near Ahoskie.

Hertford County Emergency Management Director Charles Jones reported that the safety of the DOT workers as well as those residing near the bridge became the top priority after the accident.

&uot;There was a strong odor of natural gas throughout the area of Bonner’s Bridge Road,&uot; said Jones. &uot;The DOT workers performed an initial evacuation of residents living near the bridge, those back towards the NC 42 end of the road. After being paged out to the scene, members of Station Two (Ahoskie Rural Fire Department) helped to complete those evacuations.&uot;

Jones stated approximately 25-to-30 families were affected. All were back in their homes shortly past 1:30 p.m.

DOT Bridge Maintenance officials closed Bonner’s Bridge Road on March 17 in order to begin repairs on the 29-year-old span, one that had shown signs of settling. The original plan was to replace the support pilings, a job that required digging into the creek bed. It was while that work was being performed on Tuesday that the gas line was struck.

&uot;It looked like hot water was boiling in the creek,&uot; noted Jones in reference to the gas escaping from the 870-pound, high-pressure line that is buried some 20 feet under the creek bed. &uot;The intense pressure of that escaping gas undermined the pilings holding the bridge.&uot;

Jones said when he arrived on the scene, the bridge had dropped approximately three feet prior to its total collapse.

Meanwhile, Progressive Energy officials were summoned to the scene. Using hand-held meters, they kept a constant check on the amount of gas fumes in the atmosphere. Jones revealed that once those levels reach a certain point, it paves the way for an explosion.

Fortunately, that never occurred as a team of workers shut down nearly four miles of line, enabling them to safely bleed off the gas. Jones said that process took several hours to complete.

Troopers with the North Carolina Highway Patrol blocked off both ends of Bonner’s Bridge Road during the accident. Now that road will remain closed much longer than the original one-month estimate as DOT completely rebuilds the bridge.