Climate change highlights challenges to the future of the Outer Banks' barrier islands


Climate change impacts NC Outer Banks infrastructure

Gareth McGrath


  • A roughly 2-mile-long bridge is scheduled to open in the coming weeks to replace a troublesome stretch of roadway.
  • The North Carolina DOT has struggled for years to keep the road, due to long-term erosion.
  • Oceanfront homes have been deemed unsafe for human habitation.

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Near the narrow northern tip of Hatteras Island in North Carolina, two structures — one rising, one falling — showcase the challenges of living on a fragile barrier island system that’s facing growing uncertainties from a changing climate. 

The first is a nearly $145-million, roughly 2-mile-long bridge scheduled to open in the coming weeks that will swing N.C. 12, a primary highway, out over Pamlico Sound lagoon and replace a troublesome stretch of roadway. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) has struggled for years to keep the road, which long-term erosion has pushed hard up against the often angry Atlantic, open even during relatively minor high tide events. 

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