Shober Bridge to be closed this week for repairs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The city has received some good news about the possible rehabilitation of historic Shober Bridge, a city engineer says.
City Council voted last year to pursue rehabilitation instead of replacement for the controversial Ellis Street bridge, which was closed for pothole repairs Monday and should reopen in about a week.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has forwarded the city’s request to the U.S. Federal Highway Adminstration, said Dan Mikkelson, city director of engineering.
“That in itself is good news because it means the state will not take the position of opposing the city,” Mikkelson said.
N.C. DOT will let federal highway officials decide whether the city’s plan to rehabilitate the bridge complies with federal guidelines, he said.
Norfolk Southern Railway opposes the city’s plan. The railroad wants the bridge, which carries Ellis Street across the tracks, replaced and lengthened so the company has the option of adding a third track.
The Shober Bridge project became a crisis in 2009 when N.C. DOT denied the city access to federal funds and then directed Salisbury to either complete a National Environmental Policy Act process or pay back $171,000 for planning and engineering.
The bridge had been in limbo for years while the city waited for direction from the railroad, officials said. Faced with the N.C. DOT ultimatum, Council voted in August to support rehabilitation of the bridge and asked Norfolk Southern to reply within 60 days.
On the 59th day, the railroad said the bridge should be replaced, not rehabilitated.
The city asked N.C. DOT to reauthorize access to federal funds. Salisbury presented documents to show rehabilitation is compliant with federal guidelines, Mikkelson said.
Moving the decision to the federal level is a good sign for Salisbury, he said.
“Everybody in the hierarchy has the ability to say no, but very few will exercise their ability to say yes,” Mikkelson said.
N.C. DOT administers bridge funds handed down from the federal government.
Mikkelson wouldn’t hazard a guess as to when the city will have a final answer.
“The wheels of government turn slowly,” he said. “And the wheels of the federal government turn the slowest.”
Deck repairs under way on Shober Bridge are similar to work done last year but to a much smaller extent, he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.