Story By Rebecca Pierre
Photography By Keith Ketchum & Chris Campbell
A dream that has been on the minds of Oak Island residents since at least the 1980s — a second bridge connecting 14 mile long Oak Island to the mainland — is about to come true.
Swain’s Cut Bridge is the name the Oak Island Town Council has chosen, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation has approved, for the new bridge. The name refers to the family who owned the land where the bridge crosses the Intracoastal Waterway when that body of water was still simply known as the Elizabeth River.
At a length of 980 feet and a height of 65 feet at mean high tide, the bridge is expected to be open to traffic by the end of October. However, drivers can expect work to continue for 30 to 45 days after the opening.
Changes can already be seen where the new road leading to the bridge connects with N.C. 211 and Midway Road. A traffic light has been installed and road widening and resurfacing have been completed. Plans are in the works for a shopping center to be located there as well.
What exactly will the opening of the new bridge mean to island and mainland residents and to the economy of the area and the county?
The opening of the new bridge will likely bring more retail traffic to Oak Island. It will have an economic impact in the form of a likely increase of visitors, which will, in turn, increase the number of rentals. It will ease the traffic congestion problems, offering more and shorter routes to residents and a better flow of traffic on and off the island for visitors and residents alike. It will be a boon for residents living on the west end in saving travel time as well as for most any resident planning to head south. It will also be safer for residents in the event that one of the bridges should become impassable for emergency reasons, and it offers an exit from the island that will take residents away from the nuclear plant in Southport instead of toward it if that ever becomes a necessity.
“The new bridge will have a very positive impact for the area economy,” says Mike Richards, owner of Midway Trading Post (better known as Worms & Coffee) located on the northwest corner of the intersection. “The shopping center is much needed. People will stay in the area to shop instead of going to Myrtle Beach and Wilmington.”
Kyle Thomas, public information officer for the Town of Oak Island, agrees.
“People on the island will save time, money and gas,” Thomas says.
Thomas gives the example that the direct connection from the new bridge to Midway Road will offer a shorter route to Wilmington from the island than either N.C. 87 or N.C. 133.
Brian Galeucia, community specialist at Palmetto Creek on N.C. 211 between Southport and U.S. 17 at Supply, says that some people are actually waiting for the bridge to open before relocating to the area.
“I get calls from people in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New England asking if the bridge is open yet and when it will be open,” Galeucia says. “I recently sold a home to people who lived on Oak Island for 17 years. They decided they now want to be part of a community atmosphere and since the newbridge will cut the commute time from Palmetto Creek to Oak Island from 20 minutes to 10 minutes — allowing them a short trip to the beach — they felt this was the time to make the move.”
Galeucia says the convenience and ease of getting to the beach also appeals to the residents of the Palmetto Creek Town Homes. “They are elated!” he says. He also recognizes the “fantastic opportunity for business” that the planned shopping complex offers.
Blue Water Point Motel & Marina, located on the west end of Oak Island where the Lockwood Folly River meets the Intracoastal Waterway 4 miles west of the new bridge, is already planning for increased business.
“We are already upgrading our amenities and making plans for additions even though, due to town regulations, some of those plans will remain on hold until the sewer system is completed,” says General Manager Sid Merrill.
Merrill says people often find Blue Water Point Motel & Marina by accident and exclaim, “I didn’t know you were down here!” And it’s no wonder. To find your way to his location on the west end can be as much as a 45-minute drive from the original bridge. The opening of the new bridge will cut that drive by 20 to 35 minutes.
An added bonus for the aesthetics and education of the Oak Island community is the planned arboretum at the southeast corner of the intersection of Middleton Street and Oak Island Drive, which will be the first intersection on the island after crossing Swain’s Cut Bridge. The idea was conceived as a direct result of the building of the bridge, and groundbreaking was held on September 10, 2010. Plans include the erection of a gazebo and paths through the grounds. Though it is a town project, residents were invited to donate funds to be used specifically for this project and to sponsor trees and pavers.
“It’s a nice setting — a great gateway that will give the island a boost in appearance,” says Thomas. “We have received lots of donations.”
More than that — the arboretum will be planted with indigenous trees and plants and will serve as a teaching tool for residents about the kinds of native plants that will flourish on the island.