McCoy bridge compromise muddies debateWritten by Quintin Ellison
A proposed compromise by Macon County commissioners on a historic bridge outside of Franklin isn’t sitting well with those who’ve fought for nearly a decade to save it.
Last week, the county board voted unanimously to ask the N.C. Department of Transportation to spare McCoy Bridge, one of the few truss bridges remaining in the state, which straddles the Little Tennessee River in the Oak Grove community. The state wants to replace the one-lane bridge with a new one — which would allow two vehicles to pass and hold more weight — for safety reasons. Residents who view the old bridge as emblematic of the community’s rural character have been locked in a decade-long battle with transportation officials over its fate.
Trying to broker a compromise, Macon commissioners suggested building the new bridge, and transforming the truss bridge into a pedestrian/bike-only bridge. This saves the cost of tearing down, which then could be applied to improvements. Rose Creek resident and Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who could not be reached for comment, crafted the compromise resolution.
“There’s undeniably a need for safe passage there, for ambulances and school buses,” Commission Chairman Brian McClellan said, describing the resolution as “a useful and reasonable compromise that satisfies everybody.”
Well, not exactly: “We’re deeply disappointed,” said Doug Woodward this week, a leading proponent to save McCoy Bridge, explaining most involved in the preservation battle are asking for a safe and historic working bridge. Not two bridges — one for motorists and the other for pedestrians and bike users — but a single, working bridge for everyone.
Woodward said the commissioners’ proposal had been considered, but discarded, as an option early on, with an engineering redesign submitted during a meeting with state transportation officials two years ago.
“That redesign was a workable compromise, would bring McCoy up to modern load-bearing standards, yet retain most of the historical character of the bridge — something many other Eastern states have made a priority,” he said.
Julia Merchant, spokesperson for the transportation department, said the commissioners’ resolution will result in the agency “taking another look to see if the existing McCoy Bridge can remain in place as a light-duty bicycle and pedestrian bridge that may better fit into the community vision for this area.
“The department is also reviewing options for providing a new bridge that meets current standards for cars, trucks and emergency vehicles. This means we are looking at what sorts of additional studies need to be done, what coordination efforts will have to take place and where the funding will come from.”
The review will get under way after May 25, when the deadline closes for comments on the project.
Merchant said the current project schedule called for right-of-way acquisition to begin in 2013, with construction scheduled to start in 2015. Because of the new studies, “that schedule is subject to change,” she said. “It is not known at this time what a revised schedule may look like.”
Woodward said he’s not sure what bridge preservers will, or can, do next — he’s hanging some hope on a letter sent in late April to Gov. Beverly Perdue outlining the community’s desires to save McCoy bridge.