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Leadership needed on Yadkin River project

By Seamus M. Donaldson
For the Salisbury Post
For many years, the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce has been a diligent advocate for road and transportation safety and improvements in our county and region. Of course, the project at the top of mind for Rowan County is the I-85/Yadkin River Bridge, which has been talked about for years. There are many reasons to support the building of a new bridge, including issues surrounding economic development, regional connectivity, disaster planning and others. However, in my view and that of many others, the No. 1 reason is very simple to understand: safety.
We have heard that the bridge itself is safe (i.e. it won’t collapse) from various DOT experts, which I have no reason to contest. However, I would suggest that if we asked EMS personnel who have attended to the scores of traffic accidents on and as a result of the existing Yadkin River Bridge, they would tell us that it is simply not safe for the amount of traffic that is on it now and projected to be there in the future. I believe everyone in Rowan County and the region can agree on this. What to do about it is the question. As we understand it, there are two basic approaches; one being traditional funding through normal state and/or federal sources and the second being through the Turnpike Authority (i.e., a toll bridge).
The preferred approach is to fund the project from existing dollars in Raleigh and Washington that are designated to provide safe and efficient transportation for the people. Unfortunately, from a federal standpoint, North Carolina is known as a “donor state,” which means that we send more money to Washington for the purpose of transportation improvements than we get back. From a state standpoint, the highway trust fund has become the highway “slush fund,” and I would suggest that our region is a donor to other regions in the state. We truly believe there is enough money in Washington and Raleigh to invest in this project and in the safety of the people. We are not sure, however, that the political will is there.
The second approach is a potential toll facility. As a facilitator of this debate, the chamber supported a study to review the feasibility of a toll road to replace the ailing Yadkin Bridge. Understanding that the chamber is a direct representative of business in our community, we have had much internal debate on a toll facility and the impact on our citizens. What we understand is that the proposed toll facility would be 99 percent bondable, which means the project would essentially support itself and would only require minimal gap funding from governmental sources. The bottom line is the toll facility, as compared to other toll projects which generally may be 65-70 percent self supported, is very feasible. With that said, the chamber has not taken a position to support any proposed toll facility.
So, what does the Chamber support? Safety. It is up to our leadership to determine how to provide that; all we can do is facilitate the conversation. I call on all of our representatives to take ownership of this and be an advocate to get the project completed in a timely manner. And, folks, it’s going to take our support as well. I encourage you to call and write your local, state and federal representatives often to let them know that the safety of our citizens is the most important responsibility they have. A grassroots effort may be the only way to make this a reality because, as it stands now, without positive reinforcement from the citizens and a leadership stance from our representatives, this project will be all talk and no action.
Is there an elected leader or candidate out there who will champion this cause?
– – –
Seamus M. Donaldson is chairman of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.

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