Legislators tell Chamber Yadkin bridge is top priority

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Rowan County’s delegates in the N.C. House and Senate agreed on several things Thursday morning ó one of which was the need for something to be done about the Yadkin River bridge.
The three legislators ó Democratic Rep. Lorene Coates and Republicans Rep. Fred Steen and Sen. Andrew Brock ó spoke at a legislative issues breakfast sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
The annual event was held at the Holiday Inn on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Asked how he stood on the matter of the Yadkin River bridge, Steen drew a round of laughs when he replied, “I try not to stand on the Yadkin River bridge.”
All three agreed it’s long past time to replace the aged structure, which carries Interstate 85 traffic over the Yadkin River.
Coates warned if the bridge isn’t replaced soon, it may be years before the task is undertaken.
“Not until there’s a tragedy” on the bridge, Coates warned of the prompting it’ll likely take to get a replacement for the bridge in the works.
She continued by saying, “You know how many wrecks are on that bridge all the time.”
Brock said counties in the northeastern part of the state receive nine times the amount of money for road repairs that Rowan County receives, a discrepancy he said must be corrected.
The legislators agreed a statewide list must be adopted that ranks the order in which road and bridge repairs will be performed. They said at present, every municipality and county in the state has a list for those repairs.
The governor’s office, they said, has another list.
But none of the lists are apparently official, they said.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re at the top of all the lists,” Coates said.
Steen, Coates and Brock opened the gathering by speaking to attendees. Each of the three spoke for five minutes.
Then they fielded questions from audience members. About 100 people attended the breakfast.
The fact that the sorry state of the economy must be addressed aggressively was another matter on which Steen, Coates and Brock agreed.
“We weren’t prepared for the recession,” Brock said. “We were living in a time when money was fat.”
He warned that correcting the economic woes of the state and nation is no easy task.
“It’ll take more than a couple of great years and great speeches to get us out of this economic recession,” Brock warned.
He said North Carolina is one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, with the population currently at 9 million and expected to reach 10 million in just two years.
How to handle that influx of newcomers is a problem, Brock said.
“We’ve got to make tough decisions now,” he said.
While fielding questions from audience members, the legislators were asked about Smart Start and More At 4, programs aimed at early childhood development.
Specifically, Steen, Coates and Brock were asked if they were supportive of suggestions to consolidate the administration of those two programs into a single one.
Coates said such a step has already been done in Rowan County, where Smart Start and More at 4 have merged and received numerous awards for the manner in which they’re managed.
Brock noted it wasn’t just Smart Start and More at 4 that need to have their administrative offices consolidated. He said there are numerous state agencies that operate as “little kingdoms.”
Other questions to which the legislators responded referred to:
– Concerns about the status of the state employees retirement fund.
The delegates said they didn’t feel it was in danger of bankruptcy, saying that money former Gov. Mike Easley borrowed from the fund to balance last year’s state budget has been repaid.
Brock said his mother is a retired state employee, and said he’s questioned daily about the status of the retirement fund.
– A question pertaining to consignment shops and how they might be affected by government crackdowns on problems with lead in toys that come from China.
Brock said products that pose a potential problem should have been recalled, but said enforcement of recalls from consignment shops was almost nonexistent.
“You don’t have to worry about someone breathing down your necks,” Brock said.
– The possible creation of a performance-based committee whose members would hold legislators accountable.
Steen said such a group already exists.
“The voters have to hold us accountable,” he said. “It sounds simple and it’s not really that simple. The voters have got to hold our feet to the fire.