Nestled inside the small town of Sunset Beach is an old wooden swing bridge. Built in the early 1960s the bridge is the only one of its kind in the whole state. The Sunset Beach swing bridge is actually a barge with a house and roadway built on top. It's only one lane. A traffic light at each end signals drivers, coming and going, when it's their turn to travel from the mainland to the island. Residents say the bridge is a symbol of island life. Sunset Beach Town Councilman Ron Watts said, "You get down to the island light. You stop you take a breather instead of rushing all around town and we've enjoyed it." The North Carolina Department of Transportation says the bridge is one of the oldest in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. It traverses the Intracoastal Waterway and it's as pretty as it is historic. Sunset Beach resident Douglas Hill said, "You do get to stop and look at the waterway both ways you know, that's the beauty of it." While only about 85 people live on the island many more go over the bridge. At last check, the DOT says, each day, nearly 7,000 cars travel over it. And plenty of water traffic sails through it. Every hour on the hour, Monday through Friday, it opens for boaters and jet skis, swinging open on a cable system. It's operated by a bridge tender who mans the gears twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Visitors to the area even consider the bridge a tourist attraction. Vacationer Chester Wojcik said, "I thought it was pretty impressive. I thought it was kind of nostalgic. I like to watch the operation. I hate the fact that it might be disappearing." While the bridge has been a part of Sunset Beach for a long time its days are numbered. Earlier this year the DOT approved funding for a 65-foot high-rise bridge, something residents say might take away from the area charm. Town officials say it's necessary to make the island safer. Watts said, "I'm sure initially it's going to take an adjustment by all of us, but long-term it's what we need for better access off the island." For now people who drive across revel in the view. "You're right here among all the sea grasses and the salt marsh and everything," Hill said. "It just makes it very quaint." When the new bridge goes up the swing bridge won't disappear altogether. A portion of the swing bridge may stay up, as part of a fishing pier.
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