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Editorial: Best hope for Yadkin River bridge

In these difficult economic times, when schools can afford fewer teachers and social programs are figuring out how to make do with less funding, folks could be forgiven for thinking the state shouldn’t be spending tax dollars to prepare for a project that might happen.
But setting aside $20 million to buy land for a new Interstate 85 bridge over the Yadkin River and moving that acquisition to the top of the Department of Transportation’s priority list is a good investment now and one that could prove very wise if the state wins a federal grant to replace the bridge.
After years of delays and funding shortfalls, what had become a back-burner issue ó buying the right of way needed to build the bridge ó took on urgency when the Obama administration created a $1.5 billion pool of competitive grants as part of its economic stimulus plan. The state has applied for $300 million, the maximum allowed under the grant program and enough to build a new bridge and widen the interstate in Rowan and Davidson counties leading to it.
But to have a chance at getting that money, the project must be “shovel ready,” meaning the state has to acquire all the right of way now, which it’s close to doing, a Department of Transportation engineer said last week.
Whether you agree with the stimulus plan or not, the money is there, and it’s going to be spent somewhere. The Yadkin bridge is as good a project as any and better than many.
The 55-year-old twin spans shouldering the traffic burden over the river now are well past their prime and will have to be replaced at some point, in some way. Drivers who travel I-85 ó including local legislators who’ve gotten dangerously close to those shoulders on their way to Raleigh and back ó know that. Gov. Beverly Perdue knows , too, and has bent ears in the Washington about it.
And the issue is bridging divides with government officials who traditionally would have competed with Charlotte and the surrounding area for the same federal dollars. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has endorsed replacing the Yadkin River bridge as vital to the “megaregion” that includes her city and Charlotte. That’s not surprising since I-85 carries commercial traffic to and from the Georgia city and along the east coast.
Whether the state gets federal funding or not, there’s no doubt about the necessity of replacing the existing bridge. So where does the money come from if not Washington? A shift in state spending? A toll road?
In these difficult economic times, there are no easy answers when it comes to money. So for now, we’ll hope for the best. And if the best doesn’t materialize … we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

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