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Editorial: New day for I-85 bridge?

If Gov. Beverly Perdue’s plea succeeds in getting a new Interstate 85 Yadkin River bridge on President-elect Barack Obama’s to-do list, and Obama carries through, this will indeed be a new day.
A day when the governor of North Carolina takes direct interest in an issue vital to Rowan County ó not to mention every motorist who drives through the Piedmont on I-85.
And a day when the president of the United States acts decisively to improve the country’s infrastructure and stimulate the economy.
Usually things that sound too good to be true are just that, and hopes are dashed. But the stars may have finally aligned ó politically, economically and within the state Department of Transportation ó for action.
For years, this once-approved bridge replacement has been stuck in limbo ó no longer funded by the state and ineligible to receive federal funds because of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s arcane rules. Meanwhile, costs kept rising. The project could cost $300 million to $400 million. The only way the DOT could figure out to get the job done was to charge tolls on the new stretch of highway, a preposterous idea that would have sent cars and trucks through Spencer to avoid having to pay.
Perhaps Perdue and Obama will see what their predecessors were blind to. It is inconceivable that state and federal authorities would let much-needed projects like an interstate bridge continue to linger on a wish list. Congress is spending billions to bail out private industry. Surely it can find money for vital public projects. And surely the N.C. Department of Transportation, under new leadership, can work with the feds to get the job done.
These are days of high expectation, as both Perdue and Obama know all too well ó high expectations amid a low economy. They cannot wave a wand and make the state and national problems go away. But they can own up to the government’s responsibilities and look for fresh solutions.
Maybe other leaders can help. Next month, a public issues forum in Raleigh will explore what North Carolina needs to do to improve its public buildings, roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, schools and rail. Former Gov. Jim Hunt, the founder of the forum, says the timely topic was chosen more than a year ago. That’s a stroke a luck. State spending on roads, schools and other projects has not kept up with growth. Solutions have been hard to come by, especially for the state’s under-funded highway program. Raise the gas tax? Tax people by the mile rather than the gallon? Turn smaller state roads over to cities and counties?
Kudos to Rowan leaders for pressing the urgency of the I-85 bridge by writing to and visiting the new governor ó and kudos to her for making time to listen on her second day in office. Perdue gets it. Congress and Obama need to keep the momentum going forward.

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