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Article 43

March 12. 2008 9:00AM

Commissioners voice toll bridge opposition again

By SETH STRATTON
The Dispatch

Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley was asked by N.C. Board of Transportation member Nancy Dunn to informally poll the board's interest in an Interstate 85 toll bridge over the Yadkin River. The result? None here.

"Nancy Dunn is greatly interested in that," Kepley said. "She is very pro-toll. And this is not a vote, this is just the way that we lean. Because I know he haven't had a meeting with Rowan County yet. And it could change any way we might be leaning."

Kepley asked fellow commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting to call or write him their opinions of a toll bridge, but most didn't need the week that Kepley suggested to publicly denounce a driver-funded project for a free road.

"(Dunn) is well aware of how the commissioners generally feel about a toll bridge over there. And the citizens, I don't think there has been anyone who spoke in favor of having it," Commissioner Fred McClure said. "I don't need to wait two weeks to give you where I'm leaning. I'm not leaning at all. I'm on the other side, definitely opposed to a toll bridge on that road."

The N.C. Turnpike Authority reported that a toll bridge over the river is possible, but the whole project including improvements to the U.S. Highways 29 and 70 bridge to Spencer and nearly seven miles of the interstate would cost about $391 million. A new bridge could be open by 2012 or 2013 if county commissioners, state legislators and local transportation planners signed off on the project this year.

According to the authority's report, the tolls would vary from $1 to $4 for cars and $3 to $12 for tractor-trailers. About 60,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day. Last month, AAA Carolinas rated the bridge the 11th worst in the state. To qualify for federal funding to replace a bridge, it must score lower than a 50 on the state's 100-point rating system. The Interstate 85 bridge scored a 51.8 during its last checkup.

Kepley said he, Dunn, N.C. Department of Transportation Division 9 Engineer Pat Ivey, County Planning Director Guy Cornman, Thomasville City Councilman Neal Grimes and Lexington Mayor Pro Tem Larry Beck attended a DOT meeting regarding the county's road priorities earlier this week.

Board of commissioners Chairman Larry Potts and commissioners Larry Allen and Sam Watford also denounced a toll bridge idea. Commissioners Don Truell and Dr. Max Walser were a little more open-minded to the idea of a toll. Truell said a toll may be the only way the bridge will ever be funded.

"If you ask me where I'm leaning, I'm leaning towards not supporting a toll bridge. But I am also interested in hearing more about what toll bridges do and mean. I doubt it would change my mind, but I haven't completely closed my mind, and I don't intend to till I hear more information," Walser said.

McClure said he wants to figure out how the state can change the way it receives federal funding for projects like the bridge. He said the equity formula used to distribute transportation dollars to states needs to change, but nobody has told him how to do that. Kepley said the only way the formula can change is if the legislators in Washington, D.C., do it.

In other news:

Kepley said the proposed Interstate 285 designation of U.S. Highway 52 between Interstate 40 and Interstate 85 may be in jeopardy. Kepley said the designation had been approved and was set to be included in the federal interstate system in 2011 but additional costs have arisen.

The $2 million pricetag to bring the road up to federal highway standards has jumped to $7 million, Kepley said, and the highway may never receive the designation. Cornman said the road's shoulder width may have to be widened, which could require more money needed to purchase right-of-way property.

Commissioners had hoped the interstate designation could have spurred economic development along the corridor which runs from Winston-Salem to Lexington. Kepley suggested the county request the state re-appropriate the $2 million it has received for the interstate designation improvements to other projects in the county if the designation falls through.

But Cornman said the N.C. DOT is talking with the Federal Highway Administration to see if the $7 million cost to upgrade the road could be reduced. The commissioners plan to request re-appropriation if they don't hear any positive news from the administration in the next two meetings.

Commissioners approved $500,000 to Thomasville City Schools to finish various improvement projects at Thomasville High School and Thomasville Primary School. The city schools are allotted $7 million from the 2005 bond referendum and have already spent $5.2 million on the projects at the two schools along with improvements at other buildings.

The board approved $970,484 for a leachate storage tank to be located at the Davidson County landfill. Leachate collection systems are required by state law.

Commissioners re-appointed John Hedgecock, a strawberry farmer from Abbotts Creek Township, and Jerry Black, the owner of a concrete company from Tyro Township, to the county planning board for three-year terms. Tim Temple, of the Reeds area, was re-appointed to the county zoning board of adjustments.

The board will next meet at 7 p.m. March 25 on the fourth floor of the Davidson County Governmental Center in Lexington.

Seth Stratton can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or seth.stratton@the-dispatch.com.




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